The Face of Ritual

As I talked about in my "African Art in Ritual" discussion, many of the African cultural rituals center around works of art. Masks in particular are popular focus of these rituals. Masks were used as not only a representation of a spirit, but also as a way to channel a spirit. Almost every African culture emphasizes the importance of the spirit world. Spirits were thought to be everywhere and in everything. A spirit could be a deity, an animal, an ancestor and anything in between. Most masks are made primarily out of wood but they are certainly not contained to one medium. Masks can have ceramic, feather, beaded and even human hair components. Masks were used in any type of spiritualistic ritual or performance. The Bwa "Hawk Mask" is a great example of spiritualistic mask. It may have been used in coming of age or seasonal change ceremonies. The Ekoi "crest Helmet" is another great example of a spiritual mask. This mask was probably used in funeral or coming of age ceremonies. I find the curved horns especially striking. Pay close attention to what kind of ceremonies or spirits these masks may represent as they are all unique in their own way.

Hawk mask ("Bougou dinde"), Unknown, Bwa peoples, 20th century, From the collection of: Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
Mask (Von Gla), Unknown, late 19th or early 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Helmet Mask: Sowei, Mende people, Sewa subgroup, 1900 - 2000, From the collection of: The Toledo Museum of Art
This mask is unique because it is a mask meant for women to wear. Most masks were only allowed for men during important ceremonies but this mask is different. It is worn by the Sewa women to initiate young girls into adulthood. The mask shows the face of what is valued most in Sewa society; a small nose and ears, robustness shown in neck folds, and a smooth youthful complexion. The mask is made of a medium colored wood with what seems to be human hair hanging from the bottom. This piece is meant to be a special way for elder women to welcome young women to adulthoood.
Zoomorphic mask, Unknown, Before 1830, From the collection of: Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac
Lipiko Mask, Unknown, 19th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Mask (mwana pwo), Artist Unknown, African, Chokwe Peoples Angola, 1885/1895, From the collection of: University of Michigan Museum of Art
Masque pwo (en cours de traitement), Unknown, 1850/1933, From the collection of: Musée d'ethnographie de Neuchâtel
Kuosi Society Elephant Mask, Unknown, 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
This mask is a representation of an animal spirit. In this case the spirit would take the form of an elephant. This headdress would have been used in spiritual performances. The entire piece is made of woven cloth and beads. The cloth is primarily deep blue and forms a clear pattern of face and ears. The face appears to be making a grimace. This could mean that the Kuosi people viewed the elephant as fearsome and powerful. certainly this is a magnificently detailed and time oriented mask.
Ngil society mask, Fang people, Gabon, 1800/1900, From the collection of: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Mask, Unknown, late 19th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Bwami Society Maskette, Artist Unknown, African, Lega Peoples Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1900/1975, From the collection of: University of Michigan Museum of Art
Female Kifwebe Mask, Unknown, late 19th or early 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Helmet mask, Unknown, 19th century, From the collection of: Minneapolis Institute of Art
Personal Miniature Mask (Ma Go), Unknown, 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Dean Gle Mask, Unknown, late 19th-early 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Pendant Mask, Unknown, 19th or 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Mask (Mwana Pwo), Unknown, 19th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Personal Miniature Mask (Ma Go), Unknown, 19th or 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Helmet Mask, Ejagham peoples, Nigeria, 19th century, From the collection of: Art Gallery of Ontario
Male Face Mask, Unknown, 19th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Mask for the Okuyi Society (Mukudj), Unknown, late 19th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Mask (Nganga Diphombe), Unknown, 19th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Mask, Unknown, Makonde peoples, 19th century - 20th century, From the collection of: Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
“Gelede” Mask, Unknown, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Museo Nacional de Antropología, Madrid
Cap Mask, Unknown, Late 19th century, From the collection of: Cincinnati Art Museum
Mask, Unknown, Dan peoples, 20th century, From the collection of: Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
Mask (Pwoom Itok), Unknown, late 19th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Gelede Mask, Unknown, late 19th or early 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Epa Helmet Mask: Iyabeji (Mother of Twins), Youruba people, Ekiti subgroup, late 19th century-early 20th century, From the collection of: The Toledo Museum of Art
Mask (Karan-wemba), Unknown, 19th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Helmet Mask (ndoli jowei) for Sande Society, Nguabu Master, late 19th-early 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Kuma Mask, Unknown, late 19th-early 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Komo Society Mask, Unknown, late 19th-early 20th centuries, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Kanaga Mask in Three Pieces, Unknown, 20th century, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
Crest Helmet, Ejagham people, Ekoi subgroup, early 20th century, From the collection of: The Toledo Museum of Art
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