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2000/14/1 Dance mask, 'Beizam Shark Headdress with Bait Fish', plywood / wire / metal / shark's teeth / feathers / synthetic polymer paint, made by Ken Thaiday, Cairns, Australia, 1995. Click to enlarge.

Beizam Shark Headdress with Bait Fish

This is an Indigenous dance mask, entitled 'Beizam Shark Headdress with Bait Fish', made of plywood, wire, feathers and shark's teeth by Ken Thaiday of Cairns, Queensland in 1995.

The shark is a symbol of law on Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait. Ken's masks help to tell stories about his culture. Shark masks were once used in sacred ceremonies but are today used in public dances. The shark's jaws move up and down and the fish can go into its mouth.

Contemporary Indigenous music …


Object No.


Object Statement

Dance mask, 'Beizam Shark Headdress with Bait Fish', plywood / wire / metal / shark's teeth / feathers / synthetic polymer paint, made by Ken Thaiday, Cairns, Australia, 1995

Physical Description

The main body is an open helmet construction in black-painted plywood, with ribs from a central point on the crown, curved down and attached to shaped supports that sit on the shoulders. These supports have lateral fins. Where the ribs meet at the crown is a painted plastic garden hose fitting which supports a vertical flat shark-form in plywood, with dorsal and ventral fins, painted black above and white below. Both the dorsal and upper tail fins are notched. Through the red painted mouth is placed horizontally a rectangular piece of plywood similarly painted, and with an eye painted in blue on a plywood circle and inset into each end.
To the front of the open helmet and secured to the shoulder supports, are two flat plywood moveable jaws, painted black on the outside and dark red around the implanted shark's teeth. The upper jaw is fronted by an horizontal rectangular piece of plywood painted black on top and white underneath, with an eye painted in blue on a plywood circle which is inset into each end. Behind this rectangular plywood piece, on the upper jaw, is attached groups of fluffy white feathers (representing sea foam) and a single quill attached at the centre top, and the underside of the lower jaw has groups of fluffy blue feathers attached (representing water). Attached to either side of the main body are two groups of four wires and attached to these are small bait fish (8), painted yellow with black details. A number of pulleys, with white strings attached, enable various parts of the mask to move: the bait fish, the shark, the jaws. A string to activate the jaw and the bait fish has a black wooden toggle at its end and is located at the centre back of the open helmet. The two groups of bait fish can also be activated by strings to the rear left and right which have no toggle. The shark on the crown pivots from side to side by using a string to either the left or right side, each with a red wood toggle.


Manufacturing mark moulded into the garden hose fitting, 'AS'.



710 mm


565 mm



Ken Thaiday (b. 1950), a Torres Strait Islander from Darnley Island in Torres Strait, currently living and working in Cairns, is recognised as a key figure in the making of contemporary versions of traditional dance-masks and his work is included in many exhibitions and state and national collections. He is now also working on a few large scale versions, and one that is motorised, but this mask is an excellent example of his work, with a delicacy and lightness in its design. He grew up on Darnley Island in the 1950s, moved to Cairns in the 1960s and by 1987 was known as a dancer and designer of dance masks and other dance equipment, based on his Beizam Shark totem. He has exhibited regularly during the 1990s.
'According to the artist, the shark is a symbol of the law from his Darnley Island homeland in Torres Strait. Masks like these are worn for public dancing by Torres Strait Islander people in Cairns today and are based on earlier mask types used in sacred religious cults. One of the characteristics of the Darnley Island masks is their moveable parts, and this one has a number of pulleys that the dancer can manipulate to open and close the shark's mouth, move the fan of smaller reef fish backward or forward so they move into the shark's jaws, or swing the shark effigy from side to side to simulate its feeding motions.' (Margie West, AATSI Art Award catalogue, MAGNT, Darwin 1995).
In this mask, the blue feathers represent the sea, and the white feathers the foam. In notes for the Ngaramang Bayumi exhibition (1997) Belinda Nemec notes that: '"Island Dance" as we know it today emerged from the early 1900s. One influence may have been military drill, such as Islanders would have seen from the small Thursday Island garrison. Sabaians claim it began with the King Fish Dance, the song of which refers to soldiers, but the majority give credit to Mabuiag's Football Dance. Sports such as tennis may also have been an influence. These influences resulted in regular co-ordinated movements, with little if any room for improvisation or solo virtuosity.' Other influences in music, dancing and mask-making come from Papua New Guinea and Pacific cultures, and contact with Dutch (since 1605/6) and English (from 1770) ships, where the influence of rigging has sometimes been connected with the stringing of the mask pulleys. (See Lindsay Wilson, 'Kerkar Lu: Contemporary Artefacts of the Torres Strait Islands Material Culture', Brisbane Dept Education 1988; and other books listed in Nemec's notes; see file.)

See Designed. Thaiday has adapted his contemporary masks in a number of ways, including the use of contemporary paint and plywood.



Exhibited in the 12th Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin (and touring) in 1995. It was also shown at Casula Powerhouse and Object galleries in 1998, and toured to Japan in Contemporary Australian Craft, developed by the Powerhouse Museum and the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art (see catalogue), in 1999.
From the collection of the artist.


Credit Line

Purchased, 2000

Acquisition Date

8 February 2000

Cite this Object


Beizam Shark Headdress with Bait Fish 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 22 October 2021, <>


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