A Decorative Set of Three Early 20thC Indonesian Carved & Painted Hardwood Topeng Theatre Masks

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Origin: Indonesian
Period: Early/Mid Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1920-40
Largest: 5.5 inches x 5.5 inches
Two Smaller: 5.25 x 4.5 inches

The set of three ruby, ebony and ivory painted hardwood masks in the grotesque style with expressive overtly stylised faces and accentuated features, large googly eyes, broad eyebrows and varying shaped oversized noses, all having moustaches and designed to cover the top half of an adult face and two small adults or childs faces survive from the first half of twentieth century Indonesia.

The fronts of the masks show wear to all three, commensurate with age though the mask with the longest nose has been displaced and re-attached so there are joining lines. Each mask has a pierced hole to the top for wall mounting purposes in addition to one either side for the mask straps.

Throughout the world masks are used for their expressive power as a feature of masked performance - both ritually and in various theatre traditions. A familiar and vivid element in many folk and traditional pageants, ceremonies, rituals and festivals, masks are often of an ancient origin. Masks are used almost universally and maintain their power and mystery both for their wearers and their audience.

On the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, the wooden masks, “topeng”, are used in certain theatrical dance performances called “wayang wong”. Ornately costumed performers interpret traditional narratives concerning fabled kings, heroes and myths, accompanied by gamelan music. These dance dramas developed from the shadow puppet plays of the 18th century and are performed not only as amusement but also as a safeguard against calamities. The stories are in part derived from ancient Sanskrit literature, especially the Hindu epics. The brightly painted masks are made of wood and leather and are often fitted with horsehair and metallic or gilded paper accoutrements. They are ordinarily held in the teeth by means of a strap of leather or rattan that has been fastened across the inside. Occasionally an actor interrupts the unseen narrator, the ”Dalang”, who is speaking the play. The mask is then held in front of the face while the player says his line. The use of theatrical masks in the non-Muslim societies of Java and Bali is significant, since masks, being forbidden under the prohibition of images, are practically unknown in the rest of Indonesia, as in all the Islamic world.

Makes any wall seriously fun, with just a hint of haunting.

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