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Helmet Mask (Igbudu)

Arts of Africa

Becoming Controlled

Because masks take on nonhuman, otherworldly characteristics, they are particularly effective as mediators of power. Despite their capacity for freedom and play, masks can also express social limits, serving as agents of calm in moments of tension or anxiety, or as frightening policers of the community on behalf of those in power.

The Igbudu mask represents the evil forces that can threaten a community. One of the only examples of Yoruba sculptural art that is deliberately unattractive, it features a sharp brow, protruding eyes, and wide mouth—all designed to frighten.

The commanding Loma mask, Okobuzogui, is used by the Poro society, a secret men’s association that serves, among other roles, to initiate boys into adulthood. Poro mythology holds that Okobuzogui “swallows” the boys in his menacing jaws as they leave the village for the initiation camp; he also accompanies them upon their return as young men.

Tugunga headdresses are worn only by those who belong to a secret Bamum society of warriors, known as the Nsoro, who perform at the funerals of important members of the community. The masks impress with their size and grandeur and elicit fear and apprehension since they represent the society charged with adjudicating disputes and protecting the king.
MEDIUM Wood, metal, pigment
  • Place Made: Owo, Nigeria
  • DATES 19th century
    DIMENSIONS 11 1/4 x 9 3/4 x 13 1/2 in.  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1992.135.2
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Drs. John I. and Nicole Dintenfass
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Helmet mask with raised rounded forehead. Extremely large almond-shaped eyes defined by raised ridge around perimeter. Sculpted ears project from sides at back of head. Mouth open with rectangular metal teeth inserted along perimeter. Surface of head covered with coiffure of raised concentric bands which meet in a peak at center of forhead. Solid ridge bands alternate with ones composed of continuous lines of beads. Running from crown of head down back in a series of raised forms in much higher relief. Surface covered with crusty added layer. Color: brown. CONDITION: Good. Some of metal teeth missing. Rim of base chipped. Large piece of base missing with split extending upward. Repaired with series of 2 staples by restoration department. Light breaks throughout surface.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Yorùbá. Helmet Mask (Igbudu), 19th century. Wood, metal, pigment, 11 1/4 x 9 3/4 x 13 1/2 in. Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Drs. John I. and Nicole Dintenfass, 1992.135.2. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1992.135.2_threequarter_PS4.jpg)
    IMAGE threequarter, 1992.135.2_threequarter_PS4.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2016
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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