THE SPIRITUAL WORLD: RITUAL OBJECTS IN OCEANIC ART

       Oceanic art history is very rich with a foundation of complex mythological and cosmogonic systems.  Religion and ritual strongly influence every aspect of Oceanic life, and their association with the arts is especially close. Religious symbolism infuses not only the objects, dances, and speeches used in ritual but also the materials and tools used to create them.       This gallery represents one of the many parts of the Oceanic culture that sets it apart from other world cultures. The gallery focuses on Oceanic ritual objects, specifically the masks that are used in the rituals. Masks from different oceanic rituals and functions are shown. What they are made of show that they only use materials in their environment to make them and since primary art form of Oceania is wooden sculpture, most of these masks are made from wood. Organic material like human hair, leaves, and some paint are added. The most prolific regions to find these masks are Melanesia and Polynesia; interestingly, masks are common in the former region, but rare in the latter. Many Oceanic cultures in Melanesia use most times of the year to honor spirits or ancestors. The masks are one of the main ritual objects that might be used to represent the features of the deceased, both to honor them and to establish a relationship through the mask with the spirit world. Sometimes they were used to force the spirit of the newly dead to depart for the spirit world. Masks were also made to protect the deceased by frightening away malevolent spirits.      The eight objects represented in this collection are Malagan Mask (19th century), Malagan figures (mid-20th century) from New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, Wooden mask (1800 - 1899), Lor mask (B7231) (Purchased in 1885) from Australian Museum, Baining mendaska mask (E75755) (Purchased in 1978) by Australian Museum, Death Mask (1853) from British Museum, and the Tago mask (E1904) (Purchased in 1888) from Australian Museum.     References.    "Arts of Oceania." Arts of Oceania. Roxanne Farrar, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http: / /www.slideshare.net /roxannefarrar /arts-of-oceania-60831065>.

"Australian Museum." Mendaska Mask -. Australian Museum, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http: / /australianmuseum.net.au /mendaska-mask>.

"Boundless - Textbooks." Oceania. Roxanne Farrar, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <https: / /www.boundless.com /users /159928 /textbooks /survey-of-non-western-art /oceania-32>.

"Collections." Google Cultural Institute. Google, n.d. Web. <https: / /www.google.com /culturalinstitute /u /0 /collections?projectid="art-project">.

"Kanak Mourning Mask." Www.khanacademy.org. Khanacademy, n.d. Web. <https: / /www.khanacademy.org /partner-content /british-museum /oceania-british-museum /melanesia-bm /a /kanak-mourning-mask>.

Lor Mask from Duke of York Islands. Australian Museum, n.d. Web. <http: / /australianmuseum.net.au /image /lor-mask-from-duke-of-york-islands>.

"Mask (Lor)." Http://www.metmuseum.org/. Metmuseum, n.d. Web. <http: / /www.metmuseum.org /art /collection /search /311954>.

"Oceanic arts". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2016 <http: / /www.britannica.com /art /oceanic-arts>.

"Oceanian Art." Essential Humanities. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http: / /www.essential-humanities.net /world-art /oceanian>.

One of the best regions to find ritual masks in Oceania is Melanesia. One such as this Malanggan Mask, are commonly used at funeral rites, which both bid farewell to the dead and celebrate the vibrancy of the living. The masks are made to be used on a single occasion and then destroyed. They are symbolic of many important subjects, including identity, kinship, gender, death, and the spirit world (eg. spirits associated with the area). The masks depict elaborate coiffures, wide, prominent noses, pierced earlobes and a broad mouth with teeth.
Like the Malagan Mask, Malagan figures are also made to be used on a single occasion and then destroyed. They are also symbolic of same rituals are the Malagan masks. They are made of wood, vegetable fiber, pigment and shell (turbo petholatus opercula). This figures were added because they also compliment the use of the Malagan mask.
Masks are rare in Micronesia - traditionally they are only found in the Mortlock group of islands. This typical example is made of breadfruit wood painted white using lime and black using soot. The mask has narrow eye-slits, and a plaited coconut fibre cord for securing it to the wearer's head. Such masks represented an ancestor. They were used as ornaments in the ceremonial house and sometimes in boat houses. The ceremonial house was the location of performances by members of a secret society, in which the god of wind was appeased to protect the breadfruit crops from hurricanes and storms.
The lor, or skull masks of New Britain's Gazelle Peninsula, were made by the Tolai People from the region's available materials. The Lor, which means skull in Tolai, have white faces with mouths that often appear to be smiling. Its purpose and function is unknown, however the face probably represents a spirit and the white color resembles that of a dead body. The overriding expression is that of the sadness of loss. Today, Tolai lor masks are worn by performers in a dance called tambaran kakao (spirit that crawls). The masks reportedly represent a spirit that comes to a local leader in dreams and reveals the details of dance paraphernalia and choreography.
Baining people from New Britain create large barkcloth masks to represent spirits of leaves, trees, animals and insects. The masks are traditionally worn during harvest time in ceremonial dances lasting all day and night. This style of mendaska mask, made by the Uramot people, is worn during daytime ceremonies associated with female fertility, mourning and important community events. The mask is made from the bark of the breadfruit tree, soaked in water and then beaten and dried into a cloth, and painted with a facial expression design, using red paint made from sap and black paint from tree resin. Usually, once a mendaska mask has served its ritual purpose, it is destroyed or left to decay back into the bush it came from.
This mask from New Caledonia is said to represent a chief. It is adorned with hair, probably from the men mourning the chief's death. In the north of New Caledonia, a chief's mourners wore masks such as this during his mortuary ceremony. The performer wore the mask high—looking out from the mask's mouth, rather than the eyes—covered with a cloak made of black feathers. He was suppose to hit out at the assembled people with clubs. The symbolism of the mask made connections with the underwater world of the dead and its acting performance was supposed to underline the chief's abiding power. The face of this mask is of carved wood, stained black. The eyes are generally closed—the wearer would see through the open mouth. The nose is typically beak-like. The mask is topped with human hair, also used to form the beard. The hair of male mourners was used for this; they grew it long, and cut it after the period of mourning. At the back of the head is a band of plaited vegetable fiber, similar in construction to the hat worn by men of high rank. A long cloak of black notou (pigeon) feathers, probably attached to netting, would have hung from this, covering the body of the wearer. Made from wood, human hair, bamboo, barkcloth, vegetable fiber, and feathers.
Susu masks are worn by Sulka men during important ceremonies, such as initiations, marriages and funerals. The masks represent spirits and are destroyed following the ritual. This example has elongated earlobes representing initiated men and blackened teeth symbolizing those of young male initiates. Masks are made in secrecy by men, out of the sight of women. The Susu mask is made from Pith, wood, rattan, dried leaves, feathers, natural dyes, and pollen
Tago masks represent the ghosts of important ancestors. Every 10 to 12 years, a year-long series of ceremonies remind each clan of its ancestral connections, with two major performances celebrating the arrival and departure of the ghosts. When men wear the Tago mask, a taboo is placed on all coconuts for one year and there must be peace in the village. This mask is made from wood, red ochre, black paint, and lime.
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