This Elephant Man mask is the first 'traditional' wood carving completed by Nickel Mundabi Ngadwa in Australia in 2011. His pastor at the Church of Christ in Shepparton had asked him to demonstrate he had been an artist in the Democratic Republic of Congo by completing a traditional piece.

Nickel was born in 1965 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and was a teacher and artist when he was forced to flee in 2000 and seek refuge in Cameroon with his family. They arrived in Australia as refugees in 2009 and settled in Shepparton in northern Victoria. Nickel continues as a practising artist, while also working separate jobs and producing items for sale to support his family. He has exhibited his sculpture and paintings in a number of exhibitions. His artwork reflects both his traditional culture and the artistic influences of his grandfather, as well as more contemporary and abstract forms.

The Federal government's Shepparton Humanitarian Pilot Scheme began in 2005 with the settlement of 10 families of Congolese origins. As of 2013 there are 23 families of Congolese origin living in Shepparton. Most of the Congolese arrivals are Christian and so have found solace and support from various local churches.

Physical Description

Mahogany mask painted and stained in black, brown and yellow. At the top of the mask is a carved head of an elephant with the trunk coming to the centre of the mask's forehead. There are yellow vertical lines below the trunk and these are repeated on the two cheeks of the mask and on its chin. The nose, outer edges of the eyes and lips are painted black. There are holes for the eyes, nostrils and the mouth and there is red fabric glued to the back of the mask for the eyes and tongue. The back of the mask is painted black.


This collection represents a body of work by Shepparton-based, Congolese artist Nickel Mundabi Ngadwa who arrived in Australia via the Refugee and Humanitarian Program in 2009. The selection includes items made by Nickel in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo where he grew up, was educated and taught art; Douala, Cameroon where he created and maintained an artist's workshop and also in Shepparton where he is re-establishing himself as an artist. Nickel's inspiration originated from his grandfather who was also an artist. Two masks created by his grandfather are also included in this selection to demonstrate the continuation of traditional mask making and also the transfer of artistic inspiration and skill between generations. The objects and accompanying narrative provide an insight into the experiences of an urban based refugee in Africa as well as the experiences of a recently arrived refugee, regional settlement in Victoria, the challenges of adapting to a new society and artistic practice translated into a new environment.

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