Ken Thaiday Sr

Ken Thaiday Sr / Meriam Mir people, Australia, b.1950 / Beizam headdress (Shark with bait fish) 1995 / Plywood, enamel paint, wire, feathers, shark's teeth, string / Purchased 1995. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Ken Thaiday Sr is renowned for his innovative interpretations of important totemic themes from the Erub (Darnley Island) marineenvironment, particularly in elaborate headdresses of Beizam (hammerhead shark). In his shark headdresses Thaiday merges historical forms with contemporary references, using modern materials to make a lighter, more flexible, articulated dance machine.

Bomai was a creation hero with a powerful following in the eastern islands and members of the ancient Bomai-Malu cult had a profound influence on daily life through their involvement in religious and social affairs. During ritual activity they wore elaborately constructed and decorated turtle shell masks that featured a prominent totemic animal, predecessors of the Thaiday's contemporary dance masks. Thaiday sees Beizam as the king of the marine world and calls him 'the symbol of law and order'. As he explains:

When I'm dancing (wearing the headdress) I become the shark. From my observation I'm showing how it comes up to get the live bait by simulating its jaw movements.