Museum unveils mask exhibition

By Ashleigh Fielding | posted on February 22, 2020

MUSEUM visitors have the chance to learn more about what happens behind and in front of the masks of Torres Strait culture at a new exhibition at the Museum of the Great Southern.

Evolution: Torres Strait Masks opened last weekend and will remain in Albany until May 3.

The Weekender caught up with artists Milton Savage and Kapua Gutchen Snr while they were in town for the grand opening to learn more about the significance of the masks and mask making within the Zenadh Kes Torres Strait culture.

“This is a replica of an ancestral mask that would have been worn for a seasonal performance,” Savage explained.

“They would dance over four days with the westerly wind … about survival and understanding the natural world.

“It’s quite a heartfelt thing; I wish my grandfather could have taught it to me.”

Savage said these types of rituals have almost been completely lost within his community, as European colonisers forbade they be performed after British administrative control began in the Torres Strait in the mid 1800s.

He said making these masks gave him the opportunity to connect with his ancestors and gave him their strength and knowledge.

At first, Savage felt confusion regarding how to craft the masks and when to make them – he was trying to make them during the day.

After connecting with his ancestors, he learned that 3am was the best time to make them and from there, everything “fell together”.

“To embrace culture is a gift,” Savage added.

Cygnet Repu from the Torres Strait Regional Authority said Evolution: Torres Strait Masks was important in closing the gap between different people and cultures, where language could not.

“It links outsiders to insiders,” he said.

“For so long, people have thought these masks were worn in only times of war, but they are also worn for love – there’s a lot more explanation with this exhibition.

“It lets us tell two stories – from behind the mask, and from the outside, looking at the mask.”

The exhibition is free to enter.