VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Kolam Mask
91-09
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

The Hamburg ethnologist Anna Mey has worked on Kolam masks for many years and in 2000, together with Bandu Wijesooriya, her main source of information, identified the masks in our collection She writes: “This particular mask comes from one of the best-known carving traditions on the southwest-coast of Sri Lanka, from the region of Telwatte/Totagama. The carving and the painting are done exceptionally well. The mask shows the mythical Singhalese King Narendra Singha Raja. It shows typical royal ornaments, the lions. The markedly executed ornaments behind the king´s ears show that he is a good listener. The headband means he is far-sighted and strong and the threefold necklace shows that he has put himself under the protection of the “threefold jewel” (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha) and follows the rules of Buddhism. The structure of the crown differs from the usual three-storeyed form. The 10-cornered part with the male and female figures is a very particular feature which has no counterparts in known collections."

History of the Object
The mask shows the mythical Singhalese King Narendra Singha Raja. King´s masks are central characters of Kolam-plays. They symbolize the “pure reign”, on whose background the scenes from daily life and history are shown. These scenes are characterized by attachment, greed and thirst for life. These attitudes, which are not wholesome in the Buddhist sense, are to be overcome by the example of the flawless reign of the King. The people are thereby led to the “noble eightfold path” of Buddhism.

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Type
Performance Art 
Materials
Kaduru-wood, natural colours. 
Measurements
H 126 cm, W 79cm, D 40cm 
Creator name
unknown Singhalese artist 
Creator date
unknown 
Where it was made
Sri Lanka; Totagama 
Geography
Sri Lanka 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century 
Creation date
19th Century 
Function
Mask for the Kolam Dance Drama of Sri Lanka. 
Acquisition
Between the late 19th Century and the 1930s, numerous masks from Sri Lanka were taken to Europe by the “Hagenbecks´ Peoples´ Shows” (Völkerschauen). After the tour, they were not taken back to Sri Lanka, instead, Hagenbeck sold them to the Hamburg dealer Umlauff. Umlauff sold this mask to us in 1909. 
Copyright
Saal/Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg 
Acknowledgements
Heartfelt thanks to Bandu Wijesooria, the last Kolam specialist who had mastered all aspects of his art, e.g. carving, painting, drumming, dancing, and theory. And to Anna Wischkowsky-Mey for her work on our masks. 
Owner
Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg 
Museum
Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg 
Credit line
Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg, Inv.-Nr. 91:09 

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  • Anna Mey509 weeks ago

    This particular mask shows the mythical Singhalese King Narendra Singha Raja. The 10-cornered part with the male and female figures is a very particular feature which has no counterparts in known collections.

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