Ken THAIDAY SNR., Beizam [shark] dance mask Enlarge 1 /4
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Meriam Mer people

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


Beizam [shark] dance mask 1991 Place made: Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, enamel paint on plastic and plywood, steel wire, dyed feathers, plastic swivel, cockatoo feathers

Dimensions: 70.0 h x 26.0 w x 26.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1991
Accession No: NGA 91.845

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Meriam people

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

Beizam (shark) dance mask

Thaiday is best known for his imaginative shark head-dresses. These dance masks represent an impressive and menacing symbol of law and order. The shark mask, worn by male dancers only, is traditionally associated with the Bomai-malu cult. The shark is represented by large jaws that hide the wearer’s face, the menacing teeth mitigated by rows of feathers attached to the jaws.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Look closely at Ken Thaiday Sr’s Beizam(shark) dance mask. Can you see how it would fit on a man’s head? This mask is a symbol of law and order, and is used in ceremonies performed by the Bomai-malu cult. Male dancers would put on the shark mask, and the menacing jaws would cover their face scaring onlookers and transforming them into powerful beings.

Activity:Using a large sheet of paper or cardboard make a mask by cutting out sections for the eyes, nose and mouth. Decorate your mask with paint and colourful objects you find in your home. You could use dried pasta, buttons or cellophane. Use your imagination!

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra