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This week's Art Minute features Mask by Torres Strait Islanders.

Saibai Island masks, like this 19th-century example, are among the rarest and most spectacular works of historical art created by the indigenous artists of the Torres Strait Islands, located between the northern coast of Queensland, Australia, and the southern coast of Papua New Guinea. Torres Strait Islanders, along with Aboriginal Australians, have among the oldest continuous cultures in the world, with a legacy of tens of thousands of years. Wood masks with a scooped, crescent profile, human hair, and shell eyes are believed to represent mythical heroes whose presence signal important events and rites of passage.

Few historical examples of the art of the Torres Strait Islanders survive because most of it was destroyed by Christian missionaries who arrived on the islands in the late 19th century. Today, Torres Strait Islanders’ artistic culture is perpetuated and made available to a wider public by artists working with traditional art forms. Similarly, some contemporary Aboriginal Australian artists, like the painters Emily Kngwarreye and Tjungkara Ken, featured in this exhibition, create works of art for the general public that incorporate traditional cultural themes and disseminate sacred knowledge that is obscured and kept secret from non-members.

This work isn't currently on view. TMA’s collections team has identified several artworks that require special assistance, including this piece. We’ve developed the “Adopt an Artwork” program as a way for our supporters to participate in the process of restoration. Find more information on adopting Mask here .

Torres Strait Islanders Mask. Wood, human hair, shell, seedpod, fiber, pigment, melo shell, and coix seeds, 28 3/8 inches. Gift of C. O. Miniger and Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, by exchange, 2015.55.



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