16 feb 2011

Indonesian mouth mask

Leti Island Indonesian mouth mask depicting the head of a bird
Name: Mouth mask depicting the head of a bird 
Origin: Leti Island, Indonesia 
Museum: Dallas Museum of Art 
Material: wood, boar tusks, clam shell, mother-of-pearl, buffalo horn, resinous material, pigment 
Dimensions: overall: 5 ½ x 6 3/8 x 5 ¾ in (14x16x14 cm) 
Reference code:  1997.141.McD
Age: 19th century
On the island of Leti, ritual dances featured a small sculpture representing the head of an animal. The dancer held the masklike object in his mouth by the tab extending from the back of the head. Only three examples are known to have survived, two masks in European museum collections, which represent pigs, and this Dallas mask, which depicts a bird, perhaps a pigeon or rooster. The imagination of the sculptor is apparent here in the improbable use of boars’ tusks to create the white feathers that rise above the head and encircle the face. The mouth masks are associated with a distinctive fertility ritual called porka, the goals of which were increase and abundance among human beings, animals, and plants as well as the renewal of creation. In its original form, the ritual cycle began with a headhunting raid and accorded sexual freedom to unmarried people during certain phases. Formerly celebrated at seven-year intervals and times of disaster, the porka ritual survived, with changes, during the 20th century as a New Year’s celebration. It is thought that the last complete ritual was performed between 1850 and 1860.

© Text and image: www.dallasmuseumofart.org

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