African Masks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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African Masks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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African Masks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Introduction

African masks are considered to be amongst fine creations of art work.  Masking ceremonies in Africa have significant traditional and cultural importance. During celebrations such as crop harvesting, initiations, war preparation, trouble and peace times, the African mask were worn by initiated dancers.  They were worn covering the head to act as disguise. When an African wears masks, he or she ceases to exist and they embody the spirit that is symbolized by the mask. Sometimes it may represent an animal spirit while other times it may represent the ancestry of the wearer. The masks from different communities serve their own unique purposes in the diversity of African culture.

The head dress mask

The head dress was made in the year 1978. It measures 41 centimeter in length 14 centimeters in width and 19.8 centimeters of breadth.  Its medium is leather, wood, pigment cane, kaolin and vegetable fiber.  It was black in color which is associated with the deceased   in their spirit world. It was also associated with reunion with the spirit. The spirits associated with this mask were the female ancestors and the goddesses. This mask is worn on the head of a female elder. It was worn during dance initiation and funeral ceremonies. During these initiation ceremonies the young women are circumcised as rite of passage to adulthood.    The head dress depicts a beautiful woman with elegant coiffures. The head dress is made by many different peoples who live in villages scattered along Cameroon and the cross river.  The head dress mask features celebrates and displays the society ideals for female virtue and beauty through its features. First it had the elaborately hair style in a Mohawk which displays the value for cosmetic skills and sexuality.  The second feature was the broad neck which displayed the society value full bodied and good health as the female beauty (Segy 1997).

The smooth textured forehead was to display nobility and intelligence. These were also displayed by the broad features of the fore head.  The lowered eyes were meant to display contemplativeness and restraint.  The mask also had well shaped ears, a small nose and a small mouth. The small mouth means that the woman was not a gossip woman who was very much disliked in this community. She was feared because she could potentially break families and the community in general with a big loud mouth.  Another feature of the mask was composed expression brought about by the balance of the lines and shape. The composed expression was displayed the inner serenity of the woman.  The smooth texture displayed a smooth skin which was meant to show youthfulness which was very valued amongst women. This was the ideal beauty of a woman.  The village heads in this community married many women who had to posses these features.  All these features in the mask were exaggerated.

It had a birds figure of a Mohawk perched on the top which formed the area which most stood out on this mask.  The birds figure has no distinctive meaning. Thus it could mean love, fertility, clairvoyance, danger, power, prudence, discipline and laughter. The mask’s shining blackness was also used to connote the importance of moral purity and the essence of female beauty (Finley 2006).  The dance ceremony was used to honor creative and powerful women elders, the goddesses, female ancestors who all were known in an affectionate term as the mothers. During this dance sacrifices were offered to appease these goddesses and female ancestors so as to give the land a lot of food and rain. When the rain did not come for a long time the people believed the goddesses were angry and they would appease them through the dance. The woman was highly regarded and respected in this society. They believed that the woman was the giver of life and thus great honor was bestowed to the goddesses and the female ancestors. The woman in this society was supposed to posses all attributes of beauty so as to be given the honor of a female elder. They were supposed to have stringent qualities of cosmetics and sexuality. They were also supposed to display good health which was a big body and not skinny bodies. The outward appearance was to be coupled with the inward appearance of good virtue. For example such a woman was not supposed to be a rumor monger.

Kanaga mask

The Kananga mask was made in 1987. It is made of wood, fiber, hide and pigment.  It measure 53.6 centimeters in height, 97.2 centimeters width and 15.9 centimeters breadth.

The Kananga mask was characterized by a superstructure of wood which was in the form of a double barred cross which had short vertical elements projecting from the tips of each of the horizontal bars. The vertical shaft and its horizontal bars are painted white. White color in the African culture is the color of death and it is used to associate the wearer with the ancestral spirits. The white color was associated with purity as they were meant to be worn at a time when one had first sough forgiveness from the spirits (White 2007). Only selected member who had the ability of being pure could be allowed to wear them. These were members from a specific clan which produced the leaders of the society. Some parts of the shafts and the horizontal bars are painted black which is the color of the earth in this culture.............


Type: Essay || Words: 1983 Rating || Excellent

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