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
Provenance: [Furman Gallery, New York]; purchased from gallery by Katherine White (1929-1980), Seattle, Washington, 1962; bequeathed to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 1981
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The Untold Story, Nov. 14, 2003 - Nov. 14, 2004.
Published ReferencesKahn, Miriam. "Art of Oceania, Mesoamerica, and the Andes." In Selected Works, pp. 55-58. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1991; p. 56, reproduced.

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