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Passport to the Past

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Mask (Mai)

29 x 6 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. (73.7 x 16.5 x 14 cm)

Unknown, Iatmul
Papua New Guinean

Object Type: Sculpture
Medium and Support: Wood, shells, hair, paint
Credit Line: Marion Stratton Gould Fund
Accession Number: 1977.158
Location: Currently on view
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This mask was made in the mid-20th century by an Iatmul artist after the traditional mai masks danced by young initiated men and boys. Mai masks were not worn directly over a dancer’s face, rather they were attached to a large basketry piece that fit over his head and upper body. To this piece were attached brightly colored flowers, feather and leaves that disguised the human form below. Hidden below the costume the dancer sang in falsetto through a bamboo tube which helped to further transform his voice and presence. Four masks were danced together in two pairs, one as a pair of brothers and one as a pair of sisters. While the performances were public affairs, much of the preparation before and activities during were veiled in secrecy.
[Gallery label text, 2009]

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