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Striking Torres Strait Islander masks displayed at National Museum in Canberra

An exhibition of 12 striking masks and related cultural materials celebrating the rich and continuing tradition in the Torres Strait has opened at the National Museum.

Created by the Gab Titui Cultural Centre on Waiben (Thursday Island) in 2016, Evolution: Torres Strait Masks explores the artistic and spiritual tradition of mask making that still resonates with communities today.

National Museum director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said he was thrilled to host the exhibition, which will tour until 2019.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase these striking objects, which explore key cultural practices in the Torres Strait from both historical and contemporary perspectives," he said.

"The Museum has had a long-standing relationship with Gab Titui since it opened in 2004 and the centre has provided us with valuable assistance and advice, and enriched our holdings of art and cultural materials from the Torres Strait."

Lead curator Leitha Assan said the masks created by contemporary Torres Strait artists – Andrew Passi, Eddie Nona, Vincent Babia, Kapua Gutchen Senior, Yessie Mosby and Alick Tipoti – were displayed alongside historical examples of this ancient practice.

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"The exhibition takes you on a journey from time immemorial when masks were used in ceremonial rituals involving art, theatre and dance by our ancestors, and we show how these historic artefacts have inspired new works that are constantly developing and changing," Ms Assan said.

Guest curator and choreographer of the Zugubal dance group, Alick Tipoti, is in Canberra to help launch the exhibition.

"All our routines are traditionally based. The music is based on chanting, serious men's business that expresses the warrior's ancient masks," he said.

"One of the main things is that as culture evolves, the masks, headdresses and warrior dancing and singing have a more powerful connection to the original songs and chants, as well as to the land."

Evolution: Torres Strait Masks is on display at the National Museum of Australia from May 19 to July 23.