Monday, 3 December 2012

Wearing the mask

Ah, not what you think. This is not a post about presenting a false face to the world! No, this is about another visit to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.

The art and artifacts of so-called primitive cultures fascinate me, whether it's those of the Inuit of the frozen north, or the tribes of the tropics. I particularly like the way such peoples make an abstraction of the human face and body for their rituals. The result is grotesque, perhaps frightening, but always powerful. Just now the Brighton Museum has cleared out its ordinary ethnic display and replaced it with some new items. So this sort of thing has been put into store:

The replacements are just as interesting and arresting. They had, for example, some tatanua masks to examine, mostly behind glass of course:

These tatanua masks come from the island of New Ireland, which is part of Papua New Guinea. They are specially made by a designated member of the tribe who has the special skills, and are constructed after a person dies. When ready, they are worn in a public dancing ritual to commemorate the dead person, and of course this ritual may take place some time after the actual death because of the time it takes to construct the mask. Only one side of the 'hair' is depicted, because in actuality one side of the head would be shaved as a gesture of mourning. More detailed information can be had at

There was a replica mask on a stand, with an invitation to try it on:

Could I resist? Certainly not:

Hmmm, now is this a vast improvement on my usual look? Well, possibly not. It was packed inside, so that it rested on the top of my head comfortably without slipping down. It was quite light to wear. I found it easy to breathe, but very hard to see clearly, and that shot into the mirror was taken pretty well blind. Also, the light level was low, and so I've had to lighten up the picture on the computer to make the details clear. Technically it's a duff photo, but it does show what I would look like if wearing the mask in an actual ceremony - if, that is, I were a man, for only men would be permitted to dance. And of course these tribesmen wouldn't be wearing a Windsmoor ladies' coat with faux-fur collar and trim!


  1. 'Hmmm, now is this a vast improvement on my usual look?' Oh I don't know Lucy........LOL

    Shirley Anne x

  2. Just the thing to keep the winter chill of your delicate skin...


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