In Africa, animal imagery is used to teach moral and historical lessons. Distinctive physical or behavioral traits may be combined to create mythical creatures with greater powers. These Bamana crest masks combine the horns of the antelope, the body of the aardvark and the textured skin of the pangolin--all animals that dig in the earth. Despite regional stylistic differences, they all represent Chi Wara, the supernatural being who taught people to farm.
Young men wear paired male and female masks in dances that praise and encourage good farmers. However, because of the introduction of the yoked plow, conversion to Islam and changes in patterns of employment and schooling, the performances have become increasingly more of a popular entertainment than an initiation society ceremony.
Male antelope on rectangular base with an openwork neck and mane formed by projecting notched forms, two vertical horns with backward curving tips and two upward projecting ears. The mask has round metal disks on the horns, decorative metal bands on the face and on the horns and a straight tail with a serrated edge. The neck and face have fine, incised geometric designs.
F. H. Lem, Paris, collected in Africa, ca. 1934-1935
Helena Rubinstein, Paris and New York, ca. 1935 to 1966
Paul and Ruth Tishman, New York, 1966 to 1984
Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa, The Cleveland Museum of Art, February 22-May 31, 2015; Saint Louis Art Museum, June 28-May 31, 2015; Musée Fabre, Montpelier, France, Nov 28, 2015 to March 6, 2016
African Cosmos: Stellar Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 20-December 9, 2012; Newark Museum, February 26-August 11, 2013; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, August 23-November 30, 2014; Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta, January 31-June 21, 2015 (exhibited at NMAfA and Carlos Museum)
Echoes of Africa, Epcot, Walt Disney World, Orlando, September 2005-August 2007
For Spirits and Kings: African Art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1981
Kreamer, Christine Mullen, Bryna Freyer and Andrea Nicolls. 2007. African Vision: The Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 18-19, fig. 11.
Parke-Bernet. 1966. African and Oceanic Art: The Collection of Helena Rubinstein. Auction catalogue (April 21, 29). New York, sale 2469, no. 68.
Vogel, Susan (ed). 1981. For Spirits and Kings: African Art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman Collection. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 26, no. 6.