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Maori Mask Carving By Billy


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On very few occasions have I been moved simply by holding a piece of material in my hands. Pounamu, Whale bone and Whale teeth have an amazing presence about them. Something very special that makes these mediums, for me, extremely unique. This piece of Whale bone has a somewhat sweet, pungent smell that just adds to the wairua of this remarkable medium.

Te Upoko o Tupapaku

The inspiration from this piece come from one of my favourite carvings – a waka tupapahu in the collection at Te Papa O Tongarewa, New Zealand's national museum. Waka tupapaku were carved boxes used to contain the bones of the departed. Very tapu. They were largely phased out with the introduction of Christian beliefs, but has been revived in parts of the Te Tai Tokerau region. The piece in Te papa’s collection is an amazing piece. Such presence and mana, I have often stared at the piece in awe. My carving is inspired by the head section, or upoko of the waka tupapaku.

I went down to visit my friend, Peter Elers, and when I saw his beautiful sculptures, even though they were greatly different, they reminded me of the waka tupapaku. So when he gifted me some Whale bone, and knowing his ancestry was Ngai Puhi, the same Iwi the waka tupapaku was from, it was an easy decision to use that piece as my inspiration for my first carving from his koha (gift).




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  • 4 weeks later...

I love this mask. It seems a bit eerie to me, and if it were larger*, I would even say ominous. Just the kind of art I like. Not to mention it's just plain well done.


*There is no size reference, but the shallow DoF of the photos on the right suggest it's rather small.

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Thanks for the comments everyone.


Nathan, the carving is actually reasonably big. 96mm long, but it's almost 20mm thick. So it certainly has some presence. Large for a pendant, but by my scale, I would class it as a medium piece. Thanks for the interest. Billy.

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