Far from home: realms of value established for a Torres Strait Saibai Mawa mask
(University of Sydney)
Paper short abstract:
In 2015 a mask relating to Saibai Islanders' Mawa ceremonies was sold through Christies (Paris) for € 1,665,500 – making it the most expensive Oceanic mask ever sold at auction. In this paper I explore the linked regimes of value that I believe made this possible: pre-colonial cultural creation; museum acquisition; collector hierarchies and aesthetic worth based on European art categories.
Paper long abstract:
When Torres Strait Islanders became involved in the marine industries and international commerce that bloomed in their region from the 1860s, yearly crop cycles were marked by a ceremony identified today as Mawa. These ceremonies centred on the ripening of the wongai (wild plum) fruit. Similar ceremonial events in neighbouring islands and coast of New Guinea were essential for maintaining the relationships through which Saibai were able to obtain and trade socially valued drums and canoe hulls, as essential to Islanders across the Strait as were the valued shell products exchanged with their trade partners. In 2015 a mask associated with this harvest-season tradition was sold through Christies (Paris) for € 1,665,500 – making it the most expensive Oceanic mask ever sold at auction. In this paper I explore the inter-dependent regimes of value that Christies used in creating the auction price: pre-colonial cultural creation; anthropological or museum acquisition; collector hierarchies and aesthetic worth based on European art categories.
Collections as Currency? Objects, Exchange, Values and Institutions