Transformation Masks

It has been fashionable of late to access the merits of tribal art in a decontextualized manner. We often use a language of connoisseurship to assign aesthetic value to a ritual object now defined as a work of art.

This, despite the fact that when it was created such criterion may never have been remotely considered. Instead, indigenous ideals of beauty based on ancestral traditions and iconic efficacy would have been more important.

To this end, an art brut mask may be more effective in ceremonies than a conventionally pretty mask and therefore be handed down for more generations and develop a deep patina as a result.

It is one of the great aspects, for example of masks of Nepal’s Middle Hills, that they can with their often tough chaotic visage turn our sense of aesthetics upside down. This is a good thing; we need that!

The decontextualized approach mentioned above has extended our appreciation of tribal art in the sense that it has brought much of it into the mainstream, but thankfully the animistic masks of Tribal Asia still have not been codified. We have the chance to bring our own taste to a discussion where there are no wrong answers.

This exhibition took place at the entrance of the San Francisco Tribal Art Fair at Fort Mason Festival Pavilion.

We present here a sampling of masks from the Himalayas and Indonesia that was presented along with contemporary works from the “Shamanic Mask Series” by sculptor Mort Golub that shared common themes of animism and transformation.

HALI Fair 2022 Exhibition


Combs Exhibition

Combs are an important aspect of headdress all over the world. As sculpture, they are signifiers of ethnicity, class, battle prowess, marriage status, and other social and religious cues. Great care is taken in their creation.

We have before us a sample of comb styles, ranging from the Solomon Island off of east New Guinea, through the Indonesian archipelago west to Lampung, in the south of Sumatra, and up to the Paiwan people of Taiwan and completing the journey in China. Note the similarities and differences. Comb motifs include serpents, birds, boats, trees, ancestors, and geometric repeats that may represent ancestral genealogies. The custom of wearing a comb is one of the earliest and most widespread of all human endeavors, a truly universal cultural expression.