Boiken Pottery Mask

Pottery Mask, early to mid 20th Century
Boiken culture; East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia
Ceramic; 7 1/4 in. diameter
Purchase made possible by the Bowers Museum General Acquisitions Fund

Ceramic works of art made and used ceremonially rather than for utilitarian purposes are known to exist among only a handful of cultures in Papua New Guinea, making this pottery mask a precious and extraordinary addition to the museum’s permanent collection. The disc-shaped face and sharply protruding beak are avian features. The round eye openings are intense and overall the mask is captivating, exuding originality and character. Too small to fit a human face, it is unclear exactly how the pottery mask was used although the piercings around the edges indicate that it was intended to be attached to some structure. It is very likely that it was placed in a healing shrine made up of an assortment of miscellaneous items such as bones, stones and carved figures thought to possess magical and curative powers.

This mask originates from a Boiken village west of Wewak in East Sepik Province where documentation and published findings on pottery production have focused on food containers and vessels. Figurative pottery is practically an untouched subject because of the scarcity of these forms; only one other known example of a mask with characteristics similar to the one pictured here is known. Unfortunately, Boiken pottery production is endangered with few potters remaining to carry on the tradition. Men, not women, have been responsible for the creation of ceramic wares, employing the coiling method when constructing bowls and vessels. This mask was also made with a coiling technique to which the nose was later applied in relief.

All text and images under copyright. Please contact the Collection Department for permission to use.

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Comments 1

Guest - Tor Hershman (website) on Sunday, 11 October 2009 00:59

The mask is a most interesting acquisition, indeed.

The mask is a most interesting acquisition, indeed.
Saturday, 22 January 2022

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