Intricate masks and figures made from plates of turtle-shell are unique to the peoples of the Torres Strait, which lies between Australia and New Guinea. Turtle-shell effigies were first recorded on the Torres Strait islands by the Spanish explorer Diego de Prado in 1606, a testimony to the antiquity of the tradition. Used primarily during male initiation and at funerary rituals, the masks represent mythical culture heroes and their associated totemic species. Some masks represent human forms, others depict birds, fish, or reptiles, and masks such as this one combine the features of both humans and animals.
Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, Farnham, Dorset, U.K.; [K. John Hewett, London, until 1967]; The Museum of Primitive Art, 1967–1978
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, 206.
The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 145.
Pelrine, Diane. Affinities of Form: Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas from the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1996.
Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 83, 134-7.
Kjellgren, Eric. "The Pacific Resurfaces: New Galleries for Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Tribal Art (Winter 2007–2008), p. 98.
Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 58–61.