Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Body Mask (Det)

mid-20th century
Indonesia, Papua Province (Irian Jaya), Ambisu village, Ajip River
Asmat people
Fiber, sago palm leaves, wood, paint
H. 65 3/4 in. (167 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller and Mrs. Mary C. Rockefeller, 1965
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
The art and religion of the Asmat people of southwest New Guinea center primarily on the spirits of the recently dead. Nearly all Asmat subgroups celebrate, or celebrated, the mask feast, a series of rituals culminating when the dead, personified by performers wearing full-length body masks, return to visit the community. The rites involve two types of masks. The first, a single conical mask depicting a legendary orphan, appears as a comical prelude. The second type of mask, seen here, portrays the dead. Each mask of this type is named for a specific individual. At the climax of the ceremony, the masked performers representing the dead emerge from the forest and tour the village, where they are offered food and hospitality. They eventually arrive in front of the men’s ceremonial house, where the dead and the living join in a dance, which continues long into the night. The following morning the dead, now properly fed and entertained or frightened by threats of violence, depart for safan, the realm of the ancestors.
#1748: Body Mask (Det), Part 1
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#2204: The Art of Dress: Body Mask (Det)
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For Audio Guide tours and information, visit
Michael C. Rockefeller Expedition, collected 1961; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1961–1965; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978

Konrad, Gunter, Ursula Konrad, and Tobias Schneebaum. Asmat: Life with the Ancestors: Stone Age Woodcarvers in our Time. Glashütten: F. Brückner, 1981, p. 325-39.

Schneebaum, Tobias. Asmat Images from the Collection of the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress. Agats, Indonesia: Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress, Agats, Papua Province, 1985, Pg. 108.

Sowada, Alphonse A. "Bi Pokomban: Spirit Mask Feast." In Asmat: Myth and Ritual: the Inspiration of Art. Venice: Erizzo Editrice, 1996, pp. 217-25.

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, 3, 30-31.

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