Monday, April 30, 2012

Famous American Dancer Ruth St. Denis in Egypta - 1910

Ruth St. Denis (January 20, 1879 – July 21, 1968) was a modern dance pioneer, introducing eastern ideas into the art. She was co-founder of the American Denishawn School of Dance and the teacher of several notable performers.

Source: New York Public Library's photostream in Flickr and

Anti Chemical Attack Posters - Japan 1938

Sunday, April 29, 2012

African Masks from Various Cultures - Part 2

Lipiko Mask, Makonde Culture, from Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique, 19th Century
Lipiko masks are used by the Makonde at boys’ and girls’ initiation ceremonies to represent spirits. The masks are noteworthy for their realism, each depicting details of a particular facial type and hairstyle. Lipiko masks are often caricatures representing members of neighboring groups, religious leaders, and colonial officials.

Mwaash aMbooy Mask, Bushoong Kuba Culture, from Lulua Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19th or early 20th century
Among the Kuba, masks are thought to be reflections of nature-spirits (mingesh) that act as intermediaries between the Supreme Being (Nyeem) and the world of mortals. There are more than twenty different types of masks that function within the men's initiation society. Moshambwooy is one of the three most important and represents Woot, the founding hero from whom the Kuba believe themselves to be descended.
Moshambwooy masks are worn by the nyimi, or king, of the Kuba or by chiefs in villages. The nyimi's mask is usually made of leopard skin, while those of chiefs are made of antelope skin. The face of this mask is probably antelope skin painted with a design to look like leopard's fur. The nose and ears are carved of wood, and the white beard of fur from the chest of a sheep represents the beard of an old man.

Mask (Kpeliye'e), Senufo Culture, from Ivory Coast,  late 19th or early 20th century

Elephant Mask (Glao/Klolo), Baule Culture, from Lacs, N’zi Comoe, or Valle du Bandama Region, Ivory Coast, late 19th century

Mask (Kple-Kple), Baule Culture, from Ivory Coast, 19th century

Gelede Mask, Yoruba Culture, from Nigeria, Late 19th Century

Mask, Ngbaka; Possibly Banja Culture, from Nord-Ubangi Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19th Century
Although little information exists concerning the masking traditions of the many ethnic groups of the Ubangi region in the northern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, masks were likely used during the activities which surrounded boys' initiations and circumcisions. Masks from the region can be identified by their characteristics scarification marks: rows of bumps or incisions running across the forehead and down the bridge of the nose, sometimes extending to the chin.

Ndeemba Mask for N-khanda Initiation, Yaka Culture, from  Kwango or Kwilu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, early 20th century
Several types of masks are used in dances celebrating the emergence of young initiates from the Yaka circumcision camp, where boys are ritually received into Yaka manhood. Initiates hold n-khanda masks like this one to celebrate their new status as men.

Koma Ba Mask, Mau Culture, from Ivory Coast,  late 19th-early 20th century

Mask (Von Gla), We Culture, from Montagnes or Moyen Cavally Region, Ivory Coast, late 19th or early 20th century
Medium: Wood, metal, fur, fiber, hair, leopard’s teeth, pigment
This mask combines many diverse materials to create an image of power. Multiple eyes, warthog tusks, large teeth, and other power symbols such as rifle casings and a beard of authentic and wooden leopard’s teeth form a fierce countenance that frightens away negative forces.

Mask (Lukwakongo), Lega Culture, from Sud-Kivu or Maniema Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19th or 20th century
Miniature wooden masks constitute some of the most important insignia of the second-highest grade of Bwami. Generally these miniature masks, known as lukwakongo, have a heart-shaped face framed by a line formed by the nose, the eyebrows, and the planes of the cheeks. The face is whitened with clay, while the forehead and edges characteristically have a glossy brown patina. The holes running around the lower edge of this mask would originally have held a beard made of liana fibers. Lukwakongo are never worn on the face, but are instead tied to the arm or displayed on a fence at Bwami meetings.

Mask, Yoruba Culture, from Kete Krachi, Volta Region, Ghana, ca, 1910
Artist: Ali Amonikoyi, Nigerian, 1880-1920
Medium: Copper alloy
We rarely know the names of past African artists, but Ali Amonikoyi is an exception, largely because he was a distinctive artistic innovator. He used metalworking techniques to make objects normally carved in wood and then used these objects in a nontraditional context. Moreover, he produced his works in proximity to colonial officials who observed and recorded his personal and artistic history.
Amonikoyi was a Yoruba born in Nigeria who migrated to Togo. There he used ancient brass-casting techniques to make mask forms resembling Yoruba gelede masks. These masks were placed on top of graves as memorials to the deceased, rather than being worn in dance performances.

Mask, Ngbaka Culture, from Ubangi River region, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19th century

Baboon (Dje) Mask, Guro Culture, from Marahoué or Haut Sassandra Region, Ivory Coast, late 19th-early 20th century
Medium: Wood, organic materials

Zamble Helmet Crest Mask, Guro Culture, from Marahoué Region, Ivory Coast, 19th century

Mask, Ngbaka Culture, from Democratic Republic of the Congo, late 19th or early 20th century

Mask for the Idangani Society, Akish, Salampasu Culture, from Lulua Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, early 20th century

Mask, Lele Culture, from Kasai Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, late 19th or early 20th century
The Lele make masks that have much in common with those of their Bushoong, Shoowa, and Ngeende neighbors of the Kuba kingdom but are much more rare. Stylistically, they are usually much flatter than those of the Kuba and are generally decorated with red and white pigments. This Lele carver made imaginative and skillful use of pigment to underline volume contrasts such as the convex, almond-shaped eyes–with multiple eyebrows stacked on top of each other to accentuate the eyes–and the pronounced relief of the nose, ears, and cicatrization marks.

The masks appear principally at the funerals of chiefs and elders but are also used in annual performances that celebrate and teach the history of Lele origins and migrations. In those performances, they are associated with the founding clans of the communities, who have superior status to the members of clans that arrived later.

Karanga Mask, Culture Mossi, from Nord Region, Burkina Faso, early 20th century
Karanga masks are danced at funerals in highly acrobatic, dramatic performances designed to emphasize their sculptural height. Most Mossi masks take the form of a totemic animal that protects a particular family from harm. This mask may be associated with the antelope, as the two projecting horns suggest.

Helmet Mask (ndoli jowei) for Sande Society, Mende Culture, from Nguabu, Moyamba district, Sierra Leone,  late 19th-early 20th century
Artist: The Nguabu Master
Medium: Wood, pigment


African Masks from Various Cultures - Part 1

Kongo Mask - 19th Century Kongo Central Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
This mask was worn by a Yombe nganga, or ritual expert. Its white color probably represents the spirit of a deceased person. White was also associated with justice, order, truth, invulnerability, and insight—all virtues associated with the nganga.

Gelede Mask - Yourba Culture Nigeria, Late 19th or Early 20th Century
Gelede masks, such as this one, are worn by male Yoruba dancers at festivals honoring the women of the community, living and dead, especially the powerful Great Mothers, including both the elderly women of the community and the ancestors of Yoruba society. The gelede performances entertain and educate, and document elements of everyday life, such as the woman’s head tie in this example. Through their movements, gelede dancers express Yoruba ideals of male and female behavior.

19th century African Mask. Probably made in Gabon or Republic of the Congo.
Virtually nothing is known about this mask’s use—not even which of the ethnic groups in the region might have made it. Its geometric abstraction has made it an icon of African art for Western audiences, who have linked its planar volumes with the radical forms of early European modernism, particularly Cubism.

Mblo Portrait Mask , Baule Culture, from Lacs, N’zi Comoe, or Valle du Bandama Region, Ivory Coast, Late 19th-Early 20th Century

Helmet Mask (ndoli jowei) for Sande Society, Mende Culture, from Guinea or Sierra Leone, 19th Century
The ceremonies of the Sande society are the only occasions in Africa in which women customarily wear wooden masks. Masks like this one represent the society's guardian spirit at public events such as funerals or the installations of chiefs.

The features of the mask illustrate the group's ideal of feminine beauty, with a broad, high forehead, small narrow eyes, and an elaborate coiffure. The elegant hairstyles also symbolize the importance of social cooperation, since a woman needs the help of her friends to dress her hair.

In Sierra Leone and western Liberia, each town has a Sande society that includes all of the women in the community. It represents them and binds them together as a powerful social and political force. The Sande society is one of the most influential patrons of the visual arts in West Africa.

Mask for Okuyi Society (Mukudj), Punu Culture, from Gabon, Late 19th or Early 20th century

Mask for the Okuyi Society (Mukudj) - Punu Culture, from Gabon, Late 19th Century
The mask’s white coloring symbolizes peace, the afterlife, and the spirits of the dead—though today its performances are chiefly for entertainment.

Bush Cow Mask, Bamenda Culture, from Bamenda, Cameroon, Late 19th Century

Mask (Mbuya) of Chief (Phumbu), Pende (Western) Culture, from Democratic Republic of the Congo,  late 19th-early 20th century

Bwoom Mask, Bushoong Kuba Culture, from Lulua Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, late 19th or early 20th century
Kuba mythology revolves around three figures, each represented by a masquerade character: Woot, the creator and founder of the ruling dynasty; Woot’s spouse; and Bwoom. Bwoom’s specific identity varies according to different versions of the myth. He may represent the king’s younger brother, a person of Twa descent, or a commoner. Embodying a subversive force within the royal court, the Bwoom masquerade is often performed in conflict with the masked figure representing Woot.

Wan-pesego Mask, Mossi Culture, late 19th or early 20th century

Banda Mask, Nalu or Baga Culture, from Guinea, late 19th or early 20th century
This mask combines human features and those of a crocodile or shark with teeth bared. It has the tail of a chameleon, the horns and ears of an antelope, and features of less identifiable animals. Worn horizontally on top of the head, the mask is attached to a skirt of vegetal fibers that covers the body of the wearer. Banda masks were the property of the Simo men’s society, which historically oversaw and regulated fertility and initiation ceremonies. Today it is danced primarily for entertainment.

Kuma Mask, Bobo Culture, from Burkina Faso, late 19th-early 20th century
This mask blends features of a hornbill bird, or kuma, with the horn of a buffalo, or tu, combining animals associated with great wisdom and danger. Men wearing such masks perform at the initiation rites to men’s societies, at the funerals of important male elders, and at annual harvest ceremonies. The fact that this mask has only one buffalo horn may indicate that its design was transferred between clans, in which case the original form, with two horns, would have been slightly altered.

Komo Society Mask, Bamana Culture, from Ségou, Koulikouro, or Sikasso Region, Mali,  late 19th-early 20th centuries
Bamana masks such as this one are worn and seen only by members of the Komo association, whose members harness the power (nyama) contained in the mask to aid members of the community. Powerful materials—including blood, chewed kola nuts, and millet beer—are applied to the mask, while prayers and sacrifices are offered. The open mouth and the horns, tusks, and porcupine quills symbolize the Komo’s power to punish those who violate its rules.

Mask (Karan-wemba), Mossi Culture, from Nord Region, Burkina Faso, 19th century
The female figure atop this mask represents a married woman who has just given birth to her first child—a moment when a woman is considered to be the most beautiful by the Mossi. Such masks are danced at burials and celebrations to honor the spirits of deceased female clan elders.

Female Kifwebe Mask, Songye Culture, from Tanganyika Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, late 19th or early 20th century
The kifwebe masquerade is a genre shared by the Luba and Songye, indicative of the interaction that has occurred between the two societies. Kifwebe masks represent either male or female beings. Both mask types are characterized by angular and thrusting forms, and in both cases the entire face is covered in patterns of geometric grooves that are uniquely characteristic of these masks. Female masks, such as this one, are distinguished by the predominant use of white clay and the rounded form of the head crest.

Dean Gle Mask, Dan Culture, from Ivory Coast or Liberia, late 19th-early 20th century
Historically, Dan society vested political leadership in a council of elders. Masks served as agents of social control, enforcing the council’s rules and orders. The masked figures were believed to be incarnate spiritual beings capable of rendering unbiased judgments. The specific functions of individual masks, once removed from their village contexts, are impossible to determine. Here, the nearly closed eyes and small mouth contrast with those of other masks and probably indicate that this example served in a peacemaking function and generally created harmony in the community.

Male Face Mask, Fang (Betsi subgroup) Culture, from Gabon, 19th Century
Little is known about the functions of masks such as this one, since they fell out of use by 1910. It is thought that they might have had a role in boys’ initiations into adulthood.
Among the Fang, the spirits of the dead are associated with the color white, suggesting a connection with the ancestral realm. White clay (kaolin) is also used by healers in medical practices. This face mask could have been related to either set of practices.

Mask with Hinged Jaw (Bu Gle), Dan Culture, from Liberia, 19th Century