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Kuosi Society Elephant Mask

Arts of Africa

Elephants are often associated with political power in the highly stratified kingdoms of the Cameroon grasslands. Because imported beads were historically rare and costly, beadwork is also associated with high social rank, making this mask a potent symbol of power. The Bamileke masquerade is an assertive but controlled and dignified performance worthy of a royal court. The elite Kuosi masking society controls the right to own and wear elephant masks, and the society assists the fon, or king, as preserver and enforcer of the sociopolitical hierarchy.
CULTURE Bamileke
MEDIUM Cloth, beads, raffia, fiber
DATES 20th century
DIMENSIONS 57 3/4 x 20 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. (146.7 x 52.1 x 29.2 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Elephant mask composed of cloth to which various colored beads have been sewn, and wearing its own complimentary hat. The cloth foundation is primarily deep navy blue. The mask form is composed of a hood-like head/face with round eyes outlined in red cloth and white beads, a nose of red cloth to which are sewn pale blue beads, and an oval shaped red cloth mouth outlined in white beads. The rest of the face has white, deep yellow, and varying shades of blue beads, as well as cowrie shell decoration. The square shaped hat attached to the back of the hood is decorated with blue and white beads. The mask has large disk shaped ears with white, blue and deep yellow beads. Two long rectangular panels (representing the elephants trunk) extend down the head; there is one panel in front and one hangs in the back. The inside lining of the panels is woven raffia fiber cloth. The panels have white, blue, ochre, and red beads. The bead design is geometric and relies primarily on a basic isisceles triangle pattern and its variants, for example, triangle radiates outward from a circle, or are arranged in an hour-glass like design.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Bamileke. Kuosi Society Elephant Mask, 20th century. Cloth, beads, raffia, fiber, 57 3/4 x 20 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. (146.7 x 52.1 x 29.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal, 81.170. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 81.170_detail_SL1.jpg)
IMAGE detail, 81.170_detail_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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