Alick Tipoti: Mask story

Alick Tipoti was born on Waiben Island, Torres Strait, in 1975. This was precisely the moment that Andrea and I were making our first journeys into Far North Queensland and to Cape York and meeting Indigenous Australians for the first time. It was also the time we began to collect the art of Aboriginal and Melanesian culture, the art of Australia.

“Language stands in the middle, art branches off from that, performing art, dance, song, any practice in life from our Melanesian culture branches off of that.”

In the intervening years Alick has become a notable cultural figure and a highly skilled and now famous artist. Andrea and I have been lucky enough to travel with Alick to Badu and Moa Islands and to meet the elders, his family and many of his friends. We learn from Alick just how precious the culture, the languages, the art and performance of the Torres Strait are, and how skilled and creative its artists.

In this film clip we join Alick in Cairns, North Queensland as he makes a series of masks used in performance. Like so much of the Torres Strait Islander culture the atmosphere in the studio is powerful. Alick speaks in his language Kala Lagaw Ya as he draws in the creative energy of the Zugubal ancestors of Zenadh Kes and the spirits visit the masks.

You can see masks made by Alick Tipoti in the Torres Strait Islander Gallery (Lag Meta Aus: Home in the Torres Strait) at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, the nation’s capital. Extracts from the film Zugub, the mask, the spirits and the stars are shown at the exhibition.

Alick Tipoti is a member of the Creative cowboy films Culture counsel

We acknowledge the importance of the languages of the Torres Strait.