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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)


Photo: Paul Macapia


A heroic nose

Masks from New Caledonia are renowned for their perplexing features. Mantles of black plumes are made from feathers of local pigeons that live in deep forests. Headdresses are made using hair from men who let it grow throughout a designated period when mourning a dead relative. Enormous noses, however, are their hallmark. One mythic explanation for this feature is the legend of Azyu, a cultural hero murdered by enemies who tore off his nose and tongue. When his mother tried to bring him back to life, he refused out of shame over his appearance. After traveling to the Land of the Dead, Azyu sent a similar mask back to New Caledonia to remind everyone of the life they had sacrificed.

Cloth and feathers
Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The Untold Story, November 14, 2003 - November 14, 2004
Published ReferencesSelected Works, Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1991, p. 56

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

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