The mask hides as much as it reveals, “denies as much as it affirms”, as Claude Lévi-Strauss asserted. Very often the holder of a secret, the mask conceals that which only the initiated should know.
The mask’s power also lies in its capacity to incarnate spirits, a link between man and his ancestors, between the visible and the invisible world. It is inseparable from a mythical context which structures the mode of existence and thought of the majority of traditional societies.
Central to the life of a group or a community, the mask, an indispensable intercessor, is always active.
Façade mask, Papua New Guinea, Middle Sepik, Chambri village, Chambri people, early 20th century, Wood, pigments, 120.5 x 57cm,Collected by La Korrigane expedition, 71.1961.103.316,
This monumental face is carved in champlevé wood and painted with natural red and white ochre pigments. Its hollow mouth displays two rows of teeth. The mask is pulling its tongue. Hung on the façade of men’s ceremonial houses, below a thatched awning, this large mask represents an ancestor of the clan which owns the house and plays a protective role. The masks can be hung in pairs, one at each end of the house, linked to the sun and the moon. Symbolically, this mask is the face of the ancestor and the house is the ancestor’s body. This monumental artefact is evidence of the diverse use of masks in Melanesia, which are not necessarily objects worn by men.