- Museum number
- Object: Byerb Ibaik
Sculpture, made of white brass, pandanus fibre (?) and giddi-giddi seeds (Abrus precatorius). Skull with open jaw and large nose, highly decorated including black and white pearlshell in the eye cavities, and a design of a baby with arms outstretched on the crown of the skull; fibre cord attached to the jaw with a group of seeds attached, fibre attached to the nostrils.
- Production date
Height: 16 centimetres
Width: 15 centimetres
Depth: 23.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
This work was first produced in 2009, at which time the artist decided on an edition of 12. He has since produced each cast (six so far) on request. Therefore this work was produced specifically for the British Museum.
This cast-bronze skull, titled Byerb Ibaik, is a direct reference to pre-colonial death customs in the Torres Strait Islands. Byerb Ibaik is the name of a ritual from the island of Badu, during which bone fragments were scraped from above the eye sockets of a legendary warrior’s skull, mixed into a paste and fed to a baby boy. This rite imbued the boy with the skill, courage and other attributes required for him to become a successful warrior.
In directly referencing pre-colonial, pre-Christian practice, Nona explicitly celebrates a time in which the deeds of warriors were held in high esteem, and human heads were preserved as testament to a warrior’s efficacy. This particular aspect of past practice is not frequently referenced, although contemporary artists from the region are strongly influenced by traditional culture. Nona has decorated this skull with intricate clan designs. The baby and the positioning of its hands seen in the sculpture is a reference to this custom. This is a distinctive feature of his linocut prints, and represents a departure from traditional methods of decorating skulls.
Decorated skulls were collected from the islands in the nineteenth century and two were donated to the British Museum in 1889, by the marine biologist and anthropologist, Alfred Cort Haddon.
Nona’s work embodies the complexity of contemporary attitudes to human remains in the islands – while they represent a means of reconnecting with the past, past mortuary practices contrast with Christian belief. Nona's work makes these increasingly invisible entities visible again in a manner acceptable within a contemporary context, and offers a personal perspective on the past.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2009, Brisbane, Andrew Baker Art Dealer, 'Muluka Pyban (Passing Down)'
2009, New York, Robert Steele Gallery, 'Gaigai Ika Woeybadh Yatharewmka (Legends Through Patters from the Past)', joint exhibition with Alick Tipoti
- Good and heavy
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number