Obery Sambo comes from a long line of master mask- and headdress‑makers from Mer (Murray Island), home to the Meriam people of the eastern Torres Strait.
In addition to producing customary headdresses from the region, Sambo creates experimental interpretations of masks and headwear that are often activated through dance by the Meuram Murray Island Dance Group, established in the late 1990s, which he leads as teacher, artist and choreographer.
Watch: Obery Sambo discusses his art
Sambo’s multidisciplinary practice is driven by his ability to both maintain and adapt his family’s thriving knowledge. Footage of his Meriam ancestors dressed and dancing for ceremony was captured by University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, in 1898. The recordings served in the Meriam people’s successful Native Title ruling in 1992, known as the Mabo Case, as evidence of their continuing culture. The remarkable masks seen in this clip are a source of great inspiration for Sambo.
The artist creates his own unique responses to Meriam spirit guardians Sau Lamar and Sumes Borom (illustrated), and medicine men Arsir Kirim le and Arsir le Kesi (illustrated). These masks are rendered in commercially produced materials and paints, and while they may not conform to traditional designs, Sambo uses them as memory prompts to keep the stories of these ancestors active.
Obery Sambo ‘Arsir Kirim le and Arsir le Kesi’
Obery Sambo ‘Sumes Borom (Bush Boar)’
‘Embodied Knowledge: Queensland Contemporary Art’ / Queensland Art Gallery’s Gallery 4, Gallery 5 (Henry and Amanda Bartlett Gallery) and the Watermall / 13 August 2022 to 22 January 2023