Masks and Headdresses from the Permanent Collection

Krar A Dari

21 Dec 2016 –
29 Jan 2017

The practice of mask and headdress making is a long and enduring art form throughout the Torres Strait Islands. 

Before the Coming of the Light in 1871, when Christianity was introduced to the Islands, the production of ceremonial objects for use in elaborate ritual was common. Masks are still created today and used as a visual intermediary, connecting the living and spirit realms during ceremony. 

Traditionally, in the Western, Eastern and Central Island groups, masks were made from Hawksbill Turtle shell, one of the most precious and sought-after commodities. These shell masks are known as le-op. In the Northern and Western Island groups wooden masks were carved with decorative designs and inlaid with pearl and cowrie shell and adorned with feathers, hairs and other natural materials. These wooden masks are known as mawa.

A Dari (or Dhoeri) is a feathered headdress, made and worn by men during dance. It takes many forms, some more elaborate than others and is used in initiation, marital and other celebrations, as well as story-telling performances.

These Krar and Dari are indicative of a range of masks and headdresses with different purposes and meanings: they illustrate similarities, differences and hybrid forms of head adornment from varied Torres Strait Island groups.



The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji and Yirrganydji as the Traditional Owners of the area today known as Cairns. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.