Carved face

Maori
19th–20th century
Artist Unidentified, Pacific Islander


Object Place: Aotearoa; Object Place: New Zealand

Dimensions

15.24 cm (6 in.)

Accession Number

1994.399

Medium or Technique

Wood, haliotis shell

On View

Arts of Asia, Oceania, and Africa Gallery (Gallery 177)

Collections

Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art

Classifications

Sculpture

Even though this enigmatic face is reminiscent of a mask, the Maori did not wear masks, nor did other Polynesians. In fact, this carving was originally attached to a horizontal handle with a smaller head at the other end. The complete object may have been a bird perch, net holder, ritual object, canoe prow, or even a bar for a latrine seat. Pierced openings contrast with curving raised rims that outline the open figure-eight mouth, widely spaced round eyes, and prominent forehead peak. The fine surface carving replicates tattoo patterns. Overall, this face with openwork and low-relief carving and with eyes inlaid with haliotis shell resembles the manaia figures often depicted on wood carvings. Such figures have fierce features enhanced by their menacing protruding tongue. Several objects similar to this one exist in other collections, and many scholars have speculated about their function.

Provenance

1938, acquired in Cheltenham, England, by James Thomas Hooper (b. 1897 - d. 1971), Arundel, England; June 21, 1977, posthumous Hooper sale, Christie’s, London, lot 126. May 4, 1981, sold by Alain de Monbrison (dealer), Paris, to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1994, year-end gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 25, 1995)

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel