Senufo helmet-mask, Côte d'Ivoire
More than any other "fetish", such as the anthropomorphic figures loaded with medicinal substances or spiked with blades and nails, the Kponyugo arouses fear and fascination. Born of an accumulation of images invoking the surrounding forces, its aesthetics are out of the realm of our classification. Shrouded in secrecy and forming a very rare corpus - which includes this eloquently powerful mask - the Kponyugo epitomizes an institution, which, in various forms, has spread throughout the West African savanna.
Known mostly through the writings dedicated to the Bamana initiation society of the Komo, this powerful association "holds many secrets, practices and esoteric knowledge about the relationship between Man and the world. [It] acts as a police force to fight crime, but also as a judicial body to resolve cases facing the community. [It] also offers initiates a protection against disease, misfortune, the actions of malicious spirits and those of antisocial sorcerers" (McNaughton in Colleyn, Bamana, Un art et un savoir-vivre au Mali, 2002, p. 175). As Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi superbly demonstrated in the exhibition catalogue for Senufo: Dynamics of Art and Identity in West Africa (Cleveland Museum of Art, 22 February - 31 May 2015), this institution transcended the borders created by colonial partition and established itself both in Bamana (Mali) societies and in those traditionally referred to as Poro in Senufo country (Côte d'Ivoire).
The Frobenius drawing of a "Senufo Komma [probably Komo] mask", the mask in the Dallas Museum of Art (Gagliardi, ibid, p. 258), and the mask presented here are all wonderful illustrations of McNaughton’s description of "Magnificently horrific helmet masks [...] [which] accumulate animal motifs and organic matter in a dramatic composition that is part bird, part hyena, part crocodile, part antelope and many other creatures. [Their strength] is built up through a series of regular sacrifices, the residue of which, forming a crust on the surface of the mask, makes them more and more terrifying to contemplate" (McNaughton, ibid, p. 179-180). The mask offered here also stands out for the iconic figure atop the head, which seems to marshal the formidable forces it is up against.
Matta, in his Totems and Lam in his Jungles, gave a breathtaking interpretation of this singular universe, which was born of an ancestral tradition already "firmly established when the Mali Empire was built" and which, in its expansion, gave rise to the "associations that became [in present day Côte d'Ivoire], what we now know as the Poro" (ibid, p. 182).
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale