Masks unveil ancient Torres Strait spirituality

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Sor Kobir 1, Andrew Passi, Meriam Mer language group.
Camera IconSor Kobir 1, Andrew Passi, Meriam Mer language group. Credit: George Serras, National Museum of Australia

The ancient practice of mask-making in the Torres Strait Islands will be on proud display in Menang Noongar country from next week.

The display, Evolution: Torres Strait Masks,is making its first visit to the region from February 15 to May 3 in a free exhibition at the Museum of the Great Southern.

The collection of 12 masks was developed in partnership with the National Museum of Australia and Thursday Island’s Gab Titui Cultural Centre.

The ancient masks — or Kuyuku Zamiyak — were seen as items that allowed people to connect with another realm.

They were worn only by recognised spiritual leaders of high rank who had the ability to communicate with the spirit world.

The practice of mask-making is described as deeply spiritual and has been revived by eight proud contemporary artists and master craftsmen who want to share this ancient culture and connect us to their spiritual forefathers.

Mask-making traditions are being carried on by Torres Strait artists and master craftsmen such as Andrew Passi, Eddie Nona and Yessie Mosby.

The exhibition will feature the work of the eight artists and will also focus on how the masks have influenced contemporary art.

Visitors will learn about the tools and materials used to make the marks, the performances and rituals that brought them to life, and the reaction of early maritime explorers.

Museum of the Great Southern manager Catherine Salmaggi said the masks had “deep ritual and historical significance”.

“While rooted in ancient protocols and spirituality, masks and mask-making are celebrated today as expressions of artistic and cultural revival,” she said.

“The exhibition gives visitors an opportunity to engage with the cultures of the Torres Strait region and I encourage everybody to explore it for themselves.”

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