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Meriam Mer people

Erub (Darnley) Island, Torres Strait Island, Queensland born 1950

Hammerhead shark mask [Shark mask] 1997 Description: A shark mask constructed from natural and synthetic material in two parts.The top section depicts a shark made from black bamboo and the bottom section depicts only the jaws of the shark with attached feathers.
Place made: Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, bamboo, plywood, wood, feathers, wire, synthetic cord, enamel paint, plastic

Dimensions: 87.0 h x 60.0 w x 110.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1997
Accession No: NGA 97.1371
  • Cultural tradition and personal history are embedded in Ken Thaiday’s elaborate dance masks. Thaiday says all his dance masks are intended to be used, though some of his larger pieces would tax the athleticism of the most proficient male dancers. Traditionally unique to the Torres Strait, the masks are worn in dances to align the spiritual and natural worlds. Thaiday’s imagination bridges their contemporary appeal as static sculptures, in which the masks’ entrée to fantasy can be appreciated by all.

    Thaiday grew up on Erub (Darnley Island), drawing and taking part in ceremonial life with his father, Tat, a leading dancer. In the late 1980s Thaiday formed a dance troupe in mainland Cairns, choreographing, dancing, designing and making the dance masks and hand-held implements.

    The beizam (shark) masks, based on a family totem, are his best known works. In dance performances they are mobile. The pulleys allow the shark profile to move from side to side while the mouth may open and close, imitating the hammerhead shark swimming and feeding. The white feathery plumes suggest the breaking foam. The use of pulleys is thought to have been learnt from clipper ships moving through the Torres Strait, one of many cultural influences in the islands. Originally made from natural materials, Thaiday incorporates plywood and wire and replaces real shark teeth with plastic cut-outs in his masks. These innovations add to the lightness of the pieces, yet their structure conveys the totemic subject’s strength and their mobility implies the dancers’ agility and coordination.

    Steve Miller

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

  • Historically, dari (headdresses) were worn by men during warfare; today, they are worn during dance ceremonies. Ken Thaiday Senior’s reflects the social and historical influences in the Torres Strait. The shark is the artist’s totem and represents an affiliation with the sea and wind. The Hammerhead shark mask is a moveable headdress which captures the movements of a shark with its open jaws (bottom) and natural flow of swim (top). The shark’s mouth can be opened and manipulated by the dancer wearing the articulated mask. The use of contemporary materials such as fishing lines to move different parts of the headdress demonstrates an innovative approach towards Torres Strait Island art and culture, and shows how new materials and techniques have evolved in response to changes in the cultural environment. The Hammerhead shark mask is an example of an indigenous culture’s ability to adapt and survive whilst retaining its own separate identity.

    Torres Strait Islander art and culture is unique and different to that of Aboriginal Australia; the exploration and promotion of this art and culture has recently come to the forefront in Australia. The Torres Strait Islands have undergone immense social, political, religious and environmental change since contact with Europeans began in the 1800s. These major changes were accepted and adapted, resulting in an evolving culture and enhanced Torres Strait Islander identity. This has influenced the variety of material culture produced, both from artists living in the Torres Strait and from those Torres Strait artists residing on mainland Australia.

    Leilani Bin-Juda 2002.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

  • 老肯•特代 (Ken Thaiday Senior)
    《双髻鲨面具》(Hammerhead shark mask)
    87.0 (高) x 60.0 (宽) x 110.0 (深)厘米
    收录号:NGA 97.1371




    Steve Miller

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra