Carved wood, natural pigments, fiber and shell
Late 19th or early 20th century
Height: 15 ¾ in. (40 cm)
Ex collection Herbert Rieser (1902-1978), London
Ex collection Peter & Veena Schnell, Zurich, acquired from the above in 1961
Ex Sotheby’s Paris, 3 December 2004 lot 159
They can be found throughout the northern region of New Ireland, to the north of Papua New Guinea. These masks are characterized by a stylized face with a wide jaw, motifs painted in red, yellow and black, coiffed with a large crest in vegetable fibers. This coiffure probably evokes mourners who shave both sides of their heads.
Tatanua masked dancers perform in groups and in sight of everyone in the village. Their choreographies are at once complex and delicate: steps are light, and the music is reminiscent of bird songs.
Tatanua masks are important to ritual life, marking the closing of the cycle of a malagan funeral ceremony for an important chief. Tatanua dancers remove the final taboos. The masks are key components of malagan ceremonies, being danced just before final exchanges take place between clans.