Masking Traditions

Masking Traditions in Africa
British Marines displaying their loot after the sack of Benin, 1897
Pablo Picasso,
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Oil on canvas, 1907
Edouard Manet, "The Luncheon on the Grass“, oil on canvas, 1862/1863
Pablo Picasso,
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Oil on canvas, 1907
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselle D’Avignon
(detail) 1907, oil on canvas
Mbuya (sickness) mask,
Pende, Zaire, Polychrome wood,
20th century
Pablo Picasso,
Fang Mask,
Gabon, polychrome wood, Detail of Les Demoiselle
D’Avignon, 1907,
20th century
Oil on canvas
Republic of the Congo,
Painted wood
Late 19th century
“the mask weren’t just like any pieces of sculpture…Not in the least,
they were magic things…these Negroes were intercessors, …
They were against everything, against unknown threatening spirits…
I kept on staring at the fetishes. Then it came to me. I too was against
everything… I too felt that everything was unknown, hostile…”
--Pablo Picasso
“The African masks opened a new horizon to me.
They made it possible for me to make contact with
Instinctive things, which inhibited feeling that went
against the false (Western) tradition which I hated”
--Georges Braque
The mask is the mediating force at that delicate intersection
between the real and the imagined; the concrete and the imperceptible;
The serious and the playful; the whimsical and the terrifying; the living and the dead
1. Ancestral veneration/worship; mediation
2. Rites of passage—education
3. Social control—punitive; intervention; social harmony
4. Entertainment—humor and satire.
Ancestral Veneration
Figure with Mask like Head,
Rock Painting, Tassili, 10,000 BP
Mask Head
Yoruba (Ife) Nigeria
12th-15th century (700-500 BP)
Copper, 33 x 19 cm (13 in)
Oba William Ayeni,
Orangun of Ila wearing the
Great Crown (Ade Nla) with beaded
Yoruba Peoples, Nigeria
20th cent
Chiwara Masquerades in performance during the agricultural cycle,
Bamana Peoples, Mali
Crest Mask,
Bamana, Mali
20th century
Members of the Do in performance
Dossi, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
Wood, natural pigments, grass fibers
20th century
Bobo (Butterfly) mask,
Burkina Faso (Upper Volta),
Painted Wood, cloth,
20th century
Dje (antelope) masquerade in performance, Dabuzra, Cote D’Ivoire
Elephant masks in performance, Cameroon, cotton, beads, animal skin, feathers,
Maiden spirit maskers
Igbo Peoples, Nigeria
20th cent.
Ijele Mask at the 2nd Burial
Achalla, Nigeria,
Mixed media, 20th century
Education, Initiation and other Rites of Passage
Sowei Headdress,
Gola/Vai Peoples,
Liberia and Sierra Leone,
Wood, 20th century
Sowei Headdress,
Sande society, (Gola, Vai Peoples)
Liberia Sierra Leone
Wood, pigment
20th century
Boys’ initiation, Gabon
Children’s masquerade
Yoruba Peoples
Ibadan, Nigeria
21st century
Fire spitter mask (kponugu), Senufo, Ivory Coast
Wood, 20th century
Gelede Headdress with two pythons attempting to swallow a tortoise
Yoruba, Nigeria, wood, pigment, 20th century
Social Control:
Punishment and Warfare
Yoruba Egungun Masquerade, mixed media, 21st century
Mask used in executing criminals, Yoruba Peoples, Nigeria
21st cent.
Entertainment, Humor and Satire:
Parodying “Otherness” & Antisocial Behavior
Masquerades, Yoruba, Nigeria, wood, cotton, 20th century
Critique and Parody of
unrestrained sexual desires
conceptualized in the image
of a monkey,
Egungun, Yoruba, Nigeria
Wood, cloth
20th century
A parody of a prostitute who prowls
Around looking for victims,
while stroking her teeth,
Egungun, Yoruba, Nigeria
Painted wood, cloth
20th century
Parody of the town fool
Egungun, Yoruba , Nigeria
Painted wood, cloth
20th century
Parodying the Colonial “Other”
(Egungun) Masquerade
Yoruba, Nigeria
wood, animal hide, cotton, pigments
20th century
Parodying the Police
Igbo Masquerade
20th century
Egungun in Acrobatic Display
Yoruba Peoples,
Ibadan, Nigeria
21st century
Yoruba Egungun Masquerade, mixed media, 21st century
Nick Cave
American, b. 1956
Soundsuit, 2006
Found knit sweaters, socks, drift wood, dryer lint, and paint
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2007.11

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