Coastal Ramu River Mask-Lynda Cunningham-New Guinea Art-Oceanic Art
What I always stress to anyone trying to judge authenticity in New Guinea art is to look for signs of traditional use. For a mask this is pretty straightforward. Most were attached to a cane superstructure that rested upon a man’s shoulders. So, the mask should have holes around its perimeter where it was lashed to the costume. Then often, but not always, there was a bite stick attached to the back so the dancer could hold the mask steady by the grip of his teeth. These masks manifested real, living, breathing spirits so they would be adorned as such with bold magical pigments and symbolic, often shell, attachments—so look for signs of these. The present mask from the Coastal Ramu River is an excellent example with a rarely seen tuft of grass hair on the forehead, a well-chomped bite stick, layers of magical pigments and a number of holes on the forehead, ears and nose for shell dangles. I love the relief-carved motif above the eyes and the remains of blue and yellow in the eyes. On the mask’s reverse is a tag and other writing indicating the mask was collected in 1973 with a number starting with LAR. This possibly indicates Lynda Ridgeway before she became a Cunningham. Cunningham collected some real masterpieces in her time field collecting in the New Guinea in the 1960s and early 1970s. The mask is 18 ½” (47 cm) in height, dates to the early/mid 20th century.