Bamana societies divide themselves into a number of power institutions, also known as initiation associations or secret societies, which each have distinct representations of their ritual masks. Colleyn elaborates on the iconography of kono masks such as the present lot: '[the masks] are of mythical nature, borrowing their characteristics from the hyena, the lion, and the elephant, but also from various species of antelopes and birds. Their major quality is polymorphism, and this is the reason why they cannot be portrayed as clear-cut characters.' (Colleyn, Bamana: The Art of Existence in Mali, 2002, p. 186). The encrusted, aged patina that coats the surface is the dried remains of organic and inorganic matter that was slathered onto the mask, the exact ingredients of which are known only to the creators. In ceremonies, dancers wore masks such as this one and were said to become possessed by cult spirits and deities, through which they communicated with other ritual participants.
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