Lot 157
  • 157

Senufo Helmet Mask (kponyugu), Ivory Coast

20,000 - 30,000 USD
27,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood


Simon Escarré (1909-1999), France, acquired in Ivory Coast in the 1930s
Sotheby's, New York, November 18 and 20, 2000, lot 66
Private Collection, acquired at the above auction

Catalogue Note

The large and elaborate Senufo helmet masks which incorporate mixed attributes of various animals are called Kponyugo (alternately spelled wanyugo). A pastiche of animal attributes - antelope horns, the jaws and teeth of a crocodile, the tusks of a warthog, and figures of a hornbill and a chameleon - forms a terrifying vision of aggressive natural and supernatural strength.  These are the most prestigious, powerful, and dangerous of all Senufo masks, and were danced at the funerals of important dignitaries by members of the men's Poro society.  Glaze (in Barbier 1993: 19) notes that "Senufo helmet masquerades are [...] conceived to be engaged in a kind of supernatural warfare, wielding aggressive and protective weaponry, as symbolized by core iconography formulas such as devouring jaws and dagger-like tusks.  The masquerade ensemble and occasionally the sculpture itself typically support a host of additive substances believed to have magical efficacy when correctly assembled and directed.  Furthermore, the performances of the most potent masquerades are characterized by dramatic demonstrations of their supernatural powers.  Fearsome manifestations [...] are said to include, for example, not merely the emission of fire but in some cases a swarm of vicious bees that leaves the open jaws of the mask and after hovering over the crowd returns to the mask."