The new Spirit Faces display features an outstanding selection of 19 masks from the Australian Museum's extensive Melanesian collection.

From ancient to modern times, people of all cultures have worn masks to perform, to protect and disguise themselves as different identities and to act as a ‘spiritual conduit’ within ceremonial life.

The Australian Museum's new Spirit Faces display will showcase an array of materialised spirit forms from Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and Vanuatu, revealing the different functions and styles of each mask and the range of materials used for their construction; from human hair, pig tusks, shells, feathers, turtle shell and natural fibres to ceramics.

Steven Alderton, Assistant Director Public Engagement at the Australian Museum, said masks are highly collectable and valued as much for their aesthetic quality as for the mystery and power imbued in them by their creators.

“Masks have significance in many cultures, and have a powerful symbolic language to express cultural and spiritual beliefs,” said Mr Alderton.

In some Melanesian societies, masks retain power because of the secrecy surrounding their nature and use.

Some are used to transform the wearer into ancestral or other spirits. Worn primarily by men, the mask holder becomes the spirit.

These masks are then used in performances, community events and festivities to celebrate key milestones such as birth, initiation, marriage and death, for fertility and harvest rituals, and for ancestor worship.

Spirit Faces offers visitors a rare opportunity to view some of the most intriguing and fascinating examples of masks from the internationally renowned Australian Museum’s Melanesian collections.

Spirit Faces is on display from 11 February 2012 – March 2013 and is FREE with general museum entry.

For more information on Spirit Faces including an image gallery of masks from Melanesia, please visit Spirit Faces.