Sepik mask

Archives | Papua New Guinea

Sepik mask

Papua New Guinea

Brag mask
Lower Sepik

Carved wood and pigments, fiber
Early 20th century
Height: 12 ½ in. (32 cm)

Provenance:
Ex private collection, Western Australia
Ex collection Michael Hamson, California
Ex collection Galerie Flak, acquired from the above, 2009
Ex private collection, Paris

Sold
This is an exceptional pre-contact, stone-carved mask from the Lower Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea. This highly expressive mask still has faded traces of pigments and a fine-aged deep dark patina. It has a flying fox on the forehead, possibly a totemic clan figure and a deeply pierced nasal septum. There are large holes cut out around the rim and the fine vertical lines on the reverse indicative of shell scraping—an early pre-contact method of smoothing a surface.

Masks were omnipresent in the art and culture of the Lower Sepik region. Of extremely variable sizes (from a few centimeters to more than a meter high), they offer a seemingly unlimited range of shapes and colors.

Generally known by the term brag or brag sebug, they represented powerful spirits. As indicated by Sir Michael Somare (“Sana“, 1975, p. 29), Brag spirits gave a man power to fight, power to make peace, power to change people's minds, and power to attract women. They would weaken one's enemy, confuse his mind and make him vulnerable.

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