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Kuosi Society Elephant Mask

Arts of Africa

On View: Double Take Installation, East Gallery, 1st Floor
Masquerade is performance art. The works on view here were not meant to be seen as isolated sculptural forms but were part of a whole that included costume, music, songs, food, audience interaction, and, above all, movement. Masked performances have a variety of purposes. Both of the masks displayed here were performed to support political authority, but in different contexts.

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, since both elephants and beadwork are symbols of political power in the kingdoms of the Cameroon grasslands. The Kuosi society assists the king, or fon, in his role as preserver and enforcer of a rigid sociopolitical hierarchy.

The very rare Sapo mask would have been used in a performance enacting a terrifying force from the forest. In a society historically without kings or centralized states, the mask may have exerted the will of village elders by imposing economic prohibitions or organizing hunting parties to provide for and protect the village.
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
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Double Take Installation, East Gallery, 1st Floor
CREDIT LINE Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal
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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
IMAGE front, CUR.81.170_print_front_bw.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
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.
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