This hand carved mask depicts the face of a warrior with decorative white headdress and what appears to be a tattoo in the middle of the forehead. Some of the indigenous tribes of Taiwan practiced facial tattooing. The facial tattoo was a sign that a person had entered adulthood and was eligible to get married and start a family. A male could only earn this right by proving himself on the battlefield. The back of the mask is signed “By the artist Pelen” with “Pelen” transliterated into Chinese characters. Keeping with the traditional indigenous spirit of harmony with nature, Kamuli Pelen uses only local wood for his carvings, mostly driftwood he finds along the coast or felled trees or waste lumber from building construction sites. The inspiration for his subject comes from the shape of the wood, and he leaves it in its natural state with all of its imperfections, creating a sense of the harsh struggles faced by traditional indigenous warriors.
Kamuli Pelen is a member of the Paiwan tribe from Pingtung County in southern Taiwan. For the past 11 years, he has carved art from driftwood and riverbed stones, mostly based on traditional themes. But, while his source of inspiration is his tribe’s traditions, he prefers to produce works that people can use or appreciate in their daily lives, such as bowls, decorative masks and hair pins. He began his art career as a chef creating fruit carvings, and confesses to having had a hard but colorful life, with his experiences being revealed in the richness of his works.