Apa mawa

Brian ROBINSON: artist

Not On Display

About the work

Artist Statement

Apa Mawa

In the beginning, the spirits and deities had created the Islander world, ensuring human existence and offering protection in return for ritual homage. Those rituals, elaborate in preparation and performance, stimulated creation of the finest art forms in Torres Strait – the ceremonial mask. The mask was the medium by which Islanders could evoke spiritual protection during war, hunting, initiation and cult practices and increase ceremonies, which meant continued abundance of food stock.

Connected to the spirit world through these ceremonial masks, these magically charged objects were the bolts of lightning through which otherworldly spirits and ancestors could interact and influence the human world. This labyrinth was ventured into only by the initiated few, those who could speak with the Gods, the powerful spirits called Zugubal who influenced the seasons, the winds and the waters, and who can be seen in the sky as stars, even today - great and powerful star constellations such as Baidam and Tagai which are formed by several thithuyil including Pleiades, Orion, Scorpio and Crux, the Southern Cross, to mention a few.

Mask were a central component to ritual observance across the Torres Strait and in the Top Western Islands wooden masks [obtained through trade and exchange that were then adorned with Zenadh Kes cultural and kustom paraphernalia and markings] were used.

This particular mask called Mawa, which translates from the Western Island language of Kala Lagaw Ya as witch doctor or sorcerer was worn when the gardens were ready for harvesting. The presence of this mask along with magical rites and performed ceremonies ensured good crops and was a form of thanksgiving to the gods and kin, past and present.

Throughout the islands, ritual, religion and magic reinforced the repetitive unchanging nature of the subsistence society for the Islanders and entrenched their traditions – traditions that influenced life, customs and culture. Totemic objects were created to appease spirits and deities, to ensure success in hunting and warfare, to influence personal relationships or to bring harm to enemies.

Spirits and gods did not exist on a separate level therefore they were not beyond human understanding and were part of everyday life. Deities were identified with certain rocks, trees, pools and caves, and manifested themselves in the form of birds, reptiles, sea creatures and other animals and could, at will, assume human form or that of any other creature.
Apa mawa
Artist/Maker and role
Brian ROBINSON: artist
mixed media
200.0 x 100.0 x25.0cm
Credit line
Purchased 2018
The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Accession number

This is one of the paintings in our collection.


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