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Tiki Masks

In Maori mythology, the traditional Tiki mask pays homage to Tiki, the first man created by the god Tūmatauenga or Tāne. Its significance cannot be underestimated in ancient Polynesian culture, representing remembrance and worship of ancestors. Tiki carvings are used by tribes to mark the boundaries of revered sites, and the mask is used to capture the sacred power of Tiki. Museums display masks to show the spiritual beliefs of traditional culture while tribes revere ancient masks as relics.

Figure 1: Traditional Polynesian Tiki.

Luckily, Tiki has been reappropriated into Polynesian Pop culture, with idols and masks featured at nightclubs, restaurants, art galleries and where we live. With the resurgence of modern Polynesian pop, the Tiki mask has become purely decorative, presiding over cocktail parties, popular bars, and aspiring mid-century modern homes. This post focuses on the physical Tiki masks created by Josh Agle (Shag) and does not examine his work in print or sculpture.


Figure 2: Corner display in the Shag Store showing two styles of hand-painted masks.

The Oxford Dictionary has the definition “a mask is a covering for all or part of the face, worn as a disguise, or to amuse or frighten others”. Tiki masks come in many different forms, shapes, and sizes – each style appealing to respective demographics and sub-cultures. Shag has co-opted the mask form into a modern commercial and illustrative style, appealing to the underground lowbrow movement favored by surfers, hot rodders, and mid-century modern fans.

Figure 3: Shag’s painted Tiki masks plus a photograph of the artist Shag beside a spirit mask.

On 21st September 2013, a hand-carved wooden Tiki mask was released as a pair with a print. The mask was designed by Shag and hand carved by master artisans in Bali from Albasia wood. The Maka Maka mask and print were limited to 50 sets and originally cost £800 USD. The Tiki mask is sized 24” x 8” x 3.5” and the hand-pulled three-color serigraph print (signed and numbered by Shag) 22” x 15” (image 18” x 11”).

Figure 4: Maku Maku mask and print set released in 2013.

The Shag Store normally has Shag hand-painted Tiki masks available, in brown or purple/red, at $3000 USD.

Figure 5: Hand-painted masks available at the Shag Store.

For the fifth anniversary of Shag: The Store on May 23rd 2015, Shag designed, cut and hand-painted fifteen different mask designs and color schemes. The bright masks retailed at $2000 USD and quickly sold out.

Figure 6: Fifteen hand-painted masks created for the fifth anniversary of Shag: The Store in 2015.

For the Jungle Drums exhibition from the 16th January to the 13th February at the Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles, Shag created six large spirit masks. The masks were manufactured from laser cut gator board with extruded polymer hair, and were hand-painted by Shag. As an example, the purple Kama spirit mask (fourth from left) cost $2500 USD and measured 31.25″ wide by 72.5″ high.

Figure 7: Six spirit masks created for the Jungle Drums exhibition.

Edit: The green mask above now lives at the Hatch restaurant, part of the Union Market complex at The District in Tustin. As well as the spirit mask, Shag designed the decor and wall coverings for the restaurant.

Along with the commercial work, Shag designed a Tiki mask to go beside his own Palm Spring’s front door but unfortunately had to bring it inside when too many sightseers come to see it. A smaller Tiki mask now watches from beside his front door.

Figure 7: Two carved wooden Tiki masks outside Josh Agle’s front door.

And finally, in 2007 one hundred artists were given replica Darth Vader helmets to customise and paint. These helmets travelled to eight exhibitions over three countries (US, England and Japan) from May 2007 to May 2009. In 2010, the helmets were auctioned at Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia with Shag’s fetching a low $2100 USD. Josh Agle modded the iconic Darth Vader helmet with a Polynesian Pop Tiki style and named the piece Darth Tipua (a word from Māori mythology meaning ‘differing shaped demon’). The Helmet can be viewed on pages 8 and 9 of the Vader Project Auction Catalogue which can be seen online at the Freemans auction site.

Figure 8: Darth Tipua mask.

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