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Face mask  (oloju foforo)
Date: Early 20th century
Medium: Wood, pigment
Dimensions: H x W x D: 97 x 27.2 x 13 cm (38 3/16 x 10 11/16 x 5 1/8 in.)
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Geography: Ekiti region, Nigeria
Object Number: 94-12-1
Search Terms:
Exhibited: Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts

The name of this mask, oloju foforo, means "the owner of the deep-set eyes," a reference to the cut holes through which the wearer sees. The form is unique to Osi-Ilorin, one of a dozen villages populated by the Opin Yoruba clan in the northeast region of Yorubaland. Honoring Baba Osi, or "father of Osi," the mask used to appear at an annual festival called Ijesu. This type of mask also came forth during Epa festivals that exalted ancestors and cultural heroes in other villages within the cluster of Opin towns and may be, as William B. Fagg has suggested, a two-dimensional version of the Epa mask. Two female figures kneel on the superstructure of the mask. They represent a priestess of Oshun, a river goddess who enables conception, and an attendant, who holds a lidded bowl. The priestess holds strings of cowrie shells in her left hand. Cowrie shells (Cypraea moneta), which were imported from the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean and exchanged as currency, symbolized wealth, and devotees of Oshun used them in divination. Because of their similar dimensions and flanking positions, the attendant and strings of cowries create a symmetrical composition. The mask was originally painted with black pigment on the hair, eyes and the bar on which the figures kneel. White was applied to the cowries and the blackened bar. The composition of the pigments on this mask has not yet been analyzed. Traditionally, however, colors were made from natural sources: indigo, ochers, eggshells, broken crockery, excreta of birds or snakes and ash from corncobs. Reckitt's blue, an imported laundry whitener, became a conventional substitute for indigo. A coat of milky latex from a cactus made the mask waterproof. Comparison with other sculptures suggests this mask was carved by Bamgboshe, a major sculptor in the village of Osi-Ilorin who died about 1920.

Face mask with rectangular holes flanking the nose and surmounted by a superstructure of a kneeling female with six point hairstyle, a smaller kneeling female with bowl by the figure's proper right hand and a representation of strands of cowrie shells in the figure's proper left hand. The mask and figures are covered with red pigment, with the hair, eyes and details in black pigment.

Pace Primitive, New York, -- to 1982

Deborah and Jeffrey Hammer, Thousand Oaks, California, 1982 to 1994

Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017-ongoing

Three Explorations: Yoruba, Temne, and Baga, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 22, 1995-February 25, 1996

Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought, Center for African Art, New York, September 20, 1989-January 7, 1990; The Art Institute of Chicago, February 10-April 1, 1990; The National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., May 8-August 26, 1990; The Cleveland Museum of Art, September 26-December 9, 1991; New Orleans, LA: The New Orleans Museum of Art, January 11-March 24, 1991; The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, April 23-June 16, 1991

Drewal, Henry John and John Pemberton III. 1990. Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought. New York: Center for African Art in association with H.N. Abrams, p. 188.

Fagg, William and John Pemberton III. 1982. Yoruba Sculpture of West Africa. New York: Pace Editions, pp. 170-171, no. 59.

Lawal, Babatunde. 2012. Visions of Africa: Yoruba. Milan: 5 Continents Editions, pp. 122, 136, no. 56.

Mellor, S. 2007. From Delicious to Not Quite Right: Subtleties in Discerning the Authenticity of African Art. Objects Specialty Group Postprints, Volume 14 CD. Washington, DC: American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. p.11.

Moffett, Dana and Stephen P. Mellor. 2003. The Curator-Conservator Collaboration: Remembering Roy Sieber." African Arts 36 (2), pp. 48-49, no. 7a-b.

National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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