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Mask (Kponyugu)

Arts of Africa

Becoming Again

Masquerade is a moment for play—a chance to invent and experiment, even within established social needs and existing mask genres. These two pairs of related works demonstrate artistic innovation in existing masquerade genres over time.

The two Bobo works share a basic form—a domed helmet with an extended vertical face, close-set eyes, and ridged horns—typical of Bobo mask style. The archaic features, weathered surface, and evidence of local repairs suggest that the nineteenth-century mask (far left) was a work of considerable local importance. It may represent an intellectual and visual predecessor of the twentieth-century version.

The Senufo kponyugu masks are both horizontal composite animal forms with long, projecting horns, a large, gaping mouth, and fearsome accoutrements such as sharp teeth and claws. Such details relate to Senufo cosmology, legends, and beliefs about the connections between certain animals and the ancestral and nature spirits that connect the living. The bright paint and overexaggerated features of the late twentieth-century version demonstrate how Senufo artists have updated this mask form over time.
DATES late 19th or early 20th century
DIMENSIONS 14 x 36 1/2 x 11 in. (35.6 x 92.7 x 27.9 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE Gift of Eugene and Harriet Becker
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Wooden helmet mask carved from a single piece of wood with a light brown patina. The dome-shaped central portion has an open set of jaws through which the wearer looks. At the rear of the jaws is a pair of flattened tusks. At the rear of the central portion is a pair of horns. On top of the mask is a carved chameleon with a long necked bird. CONDITION: Proper right side of lower jaw: one tooth missing; proper left side of upper jaw, tooth has only a small portion remaining; proper left side of lower jaw, two teeth are missing.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Senufo. Mask (Kponyugu), late 19th or early 20th century. Wood, 14 x 36 1/2 x 11 in. (35.6 x 92.7 x 27.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Eugene and Harriet Becker, 1990.220. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1990.220_threequarter_PS9.jpg)
IMAGE threequarter, 1990.220_threequarter_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2016
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