Bamana Mask, Mali
Avatars and Allegories: Property from the Estate of Pierre M. Schlumberger
Bamana Mask, Mali
Height: 27 1/8 in (69 cm)
The artist that created this powerful mask intended to evoke fear and submission in the viewer – as was the ritual purpose of surukuw, or hyena masks, which were worn in kore, a Bamana male initiation ceremony. The present mask is of impressive volume, with a large mouth full of pointed teeth open in menacing laughter. Surukuw masks are distinguished by the pronounced protrusion of the rounded forehead and cranial ridge on the top of the head, and oblong geometric face, with gaping circular or rectangular eyes; for a classic example, see Jean-Paul Colleyn, Bamana: The Art of Existence in Mali, New York, 2001, p. 119, cat. no. 104.
Kore functions as an initiation ceremony, but it also “is included among the rites that influence the natural cycle, for kore masters boast of being able to appeal directly to the heavens, the divine supplication par excellence, in order to make it rain. Formerly, when rain was abundant, they were able conversely to end storms that were threatening to overwhelm farmers in their fields” (Jean-Paul Colleyn, Visions of Africa: Bamana, 2008, p. 28).
While in some ways the present mask does bear resemblance to the Kore corpus of masks, with its long, alert ears and a more naturalistic snout reminiscent of a hyena’s, it also recalls the masks used in Kono. The functions of the Kono, a divine power and institution, “are to foster female fecundity and agricultural fertility, to resolve conflicts, to punish trouble-makers, and to intimidate soul-eating creatures” (Jean-Paul Colleyn, Bamana: The Art of Existence in Mali, New York, 2001, p. 188). Kono masks include anthropomorphic forms of all types such as cow masks and antelope masks. The mask illustrated as cat. no. 178 in Bamana: The Art of Existence in Mali, features similar stylistic details as the present mask. The resemblance is clear: it displays an elongated muzzle, mouth gaping, it bears its teeth menacingly and its ears stand alertly, pulled towards the rear of the head.