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Kala Lagaw Ya people

Waiben (Thursday Island), Torres Strait Islands, Queensland, Australia born 1975

Adhaz Parw Ngoedhe Buk 2008 Place made: Horn Island, Torres Strait Island, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, metalwork, rusted steel, pearl shell and hardwood

Dimensions: 173.0 h x 79.0 w x 58.8 d cm ; weight 91 kg
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.555
Image rights: Courtesy of the artist and the Australian Art Print Network

Alick Tipoti’s art spans several worlds: the spiritual and natural worlds of his Torres Strait homeland; the techniques and materials of the contemporary art world; and the cultural world view of his elders and ancestors. His fascination with traditional island life is his life’s obsession. Having lived on mainland Australia, he now raises his young family on Horn Island, owns land on Badu Island and his ancestral roots are on nearby Mabuaig Island. He has been given the traditional name ‘Zugab’, which enables him to relate to the spirits of his ancestors, the Zugubal. Tipoti has researched his cultural traditions and language extensively, and he believes those spirits guide him creatively.

Like his contemporary, Dennis Nona, Tipoti first came to attention for his vigorously expressive linocuts and drawings. Against intricate, patterned backgrounds he tells ancestral stories of the Torres Strait and depicts hunting and nature, particularly sea life. His warriors are muscular and imposing: clearly Tipoti identifies strongly with them. He is a cultural warrior for his people, protecting their heritage and campaigning for respect and appreciation from the rest of the world.

This particular dance mask is inspired by, and considered to be a reasonably faithful reproduction of, a traditional Torres Strait Islands mask held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. By constructing it from rusted steel, Tipoti challenges the viewer to consider the state of Torres Strait culture. Is it a relic of antiquity, or is there something stronger and more resilient which, with diligence, can shine brightly once more?

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