|African Female Portrait Mask, Provenance unknown|
But now that I'm home, reviewing my pictures, I realize layers of controversy and a lack of real information hinder my understanding of these works. As this was a gallery, not every work identified the maker, the tribe, or when or where the work was made. Are the art works authentic or manufactured for the tourist trade? Were they imported from India or other countries and made to specification? The desire to preserve traditional beliefs is juxtaposed against the commercial appeal of these works. Traditionally, fathers taught sons how to make the masks, passing along sacred and secret information. Once the masks are taken outside of their tribal context, how do we understand what these masks mean?
|Beaded Mask, Provenance unknown|
In the mask of the woman above, the high forehead may stand for intelligence, the closed eyes for patience and humility (desired traits in females), the beading and scarification could emphasized culturally defined beauty, and the cowry shells, royalty.
I'm guessing the beaded mask may be some kind of nature god for sea creatures swim around the green face heavily decorated with cowry shells. But I don't trust my interpretations for I was never the young child standing in the marketplace (as shown in the video below), watching an ancestral hyena come to life and dance.
In this 15-minute video on YouTube, Christopher Roy discusses some of the contexts of the mask in "African Art: The Masks of the Gnoumou Family in Boni Perform, 2007." His video is set in Burkina Faso, West Africa.