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Karanga Mask

Arts of Africa

Becoming Another

The play associated with masquerade can lead to the invention of new types of identities and new hybrid, not-quite-human masked beings. Moments of passage—into or out of this world, through birth or death, or from childhood to adulthood—bring with them the potential for disorder. Masquerade can offer a vision of transcendence, suggesting that such concerns belong to a world beyond limited human understanding. By transforming its participants into nonhuman beings, masquerade performance transcends everyday human reality and reminds all involved that their immediate concerns are governed by forces larger than themselves.

Both of these masks by Mossi artists portray a being that combines human and animal characteristics. The tall, plank-like mask suggests a human-antelope hybrid, while the horizontal mask has both antelope and birdlike features.

Most Mossi masks symbolically depict totemic animals associated with particular clans. Each family has an animal with which it has mythological connections and which protects it from harm. Such masks would appear at the funerals of important family members, a moment loaded with personal, community, and spiritual significance. At the end of their own active lives, masks might go on to second lives as altars, providing connection to the spirits of commemorated ancestors.
CULTURE Mossi
MEDIUM Wood, pigment
  • Place Made: Nord Region
  • DATES early 20th century
    DIMENSIONS 63 x 6 1/4 x 5 in. (160 x 15.9 x 12.7 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1992.74.1
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal in memory of Julia Forchheimer
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Mossi. Karanga Mask, early 20th century. Wood, pigment, 63 x 6 1/4 x 5 in. (160 x 15.9 x 12.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal in memory of Julia Forchheimer, 1992.74.1. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1992.74.1_SL3.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 1992.74.1_SL3.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 Oval face mask at base of flat vertical plank extension. Face bisected by raised vertical ridge with triangular cut out eyes on either side and linear designs incised on cheeks. Two long slender antelope-like horns extend from forehead, twisted and curved at tips. Surface of plank at back of head divided into painted rectangular quadrants with alternating motifs: triangular, herringbone and checkerboard designs. Finial form at top triangular. Two circular holes through sides at base of face. Colors: white, brown, and black. Condition: Some water damage around perimeter of face. Piece missing from base with crack extending around side. Repairs to several cracks toward top of plank - deepest one extends from top of plank downward. Paint missing in patches from surface.
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