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Mask (Karan-wemba)

Arts of Africa


These five artworks from throughout Africa display the range of approaches artists have taken to figural representation. They prove that the Western tradition of naturalism—depicting the body precisely as observed in life—is not even remotely the only possibility open to an artist.

The Mossi mask celebrates the female form. While it is not an exact replica of the body, the proportions are relatively balanced.

The Yoruba tapper, used with a board to draw images during divinations, was carved with more exaggerated proportions, owing to both the shape of the ivory from which it was carved and the functional requirements of the object.

The Fang figure has primarily been reduced to a series of cylinders and circles. The legs and hips are conceived as the intersection of two perpendicular cylinders, echoing the cylindrical reliquary box on which the figure sat.

The small Nsapo-Nsapo work and the Salampasu figure take the abstraction of the human form even further by greatly exaggerating the proportions. The Nsapo-Nsapo figure’s thin, extended arms and the Salampasu sculpture’s outthrust chest and flexed shoulders suggest different emotional states for these two protective figures—a tense anxiety, perhaps, in one and a tense readiness in the other.
DATES 19th century
DIMENSIONS 31 x 8 1/2 x 6 3/4 in. (78.7 x 21.6 x 17.1 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE Gift of Beatrice Riese
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Oval, minimally decorated face mask on top of which is 21" tall standing female figure. Figure is nude, frontally posed, with arms at sides and knees slightly bent. Figure's oval face clearly delineated, with protruding eyes, straight nose, and slightly open mouth revealing two (metal?) teeth. Ears squarish with one hole in each lobe. Coiffure consists of a single ridge with shallow striations from brow, over top of head, continuing down to shoulder level. Scarification marks on cheeks and back of head. Long columnar neck with three shallow striations encircling middle. Broad shoulders and large breasts. Extensive linear scarification marks consisting of triangular and checkerboard patterns incised on back, upper arms, and buttocks. More lightly incised scarification marks above breasts and on belly. Naval protrudes slightly. Buttocks sharply delineated, moving into upper legs at a sharp angle. Thick, smooth curved legs. Hands and feet minimally carved with incised lines definiing fingers and toes. Mask below figure is oval in shape with square eye holes. Eye area set back approximately 1" from surface. Vertical ridge moves down center of eye area. Eye area rimmed with oval-shaped ridge. Twenty-four small holes evenly spaced around edge of mask. Interior unornamented. Condition good.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Mossi. Mask (Karan-wemba), 19th century. Wood, 31 x 8 1/2 x 6 3/4 in. (78.7 x 21.6 x 17.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Beatrice Riese, 2005.13. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2005.13_SL1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 2005.13_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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