Bicephalous Baule Mask

SKU DA.427
Circa

20th Century AD

Dimensions

11.5″ (29.2cm) high

Medium

Wood

Origin

Ivory Coast

Gallery Location

USA


 

This stunning bicephalous facemask was made by the Baule, the most powerful tribe in the Ivory Coast and among Africa’s greatest artistic creators. It represents a pair of faces that are probably (yet not necessarily) male and female, mounted onto a single large, round facemask with a central aperture for viewing. The heads are totally separate from one another, with their middle ears and hair almost touching. The faces are essentially identical, with bulging brows, elongated features, rather prominent noses, hooded eyes, pursed lips and peaked coiffures. The face to the viewer’s right has central keloid forehead scarring that is absent on the other, as well as a slightly higher coiffure. Patination is deep and irregular. The perimeter of the body is pierced with multiple holes with evidence of usage, denoting the attachments of the costume with which this was originally worn.
The Baule live across the Ivory Coast area, and have an economy based primarily on sedentary agriculturism. They have thus been able to build up a considerable political and economic stronghold, which has in turn given rise to a strong ritual and artistic heritage. Their own creation story relates to an ancient migration, in which the queen was forced to sacrifice her son in order to ford a mighty river. So upset was she that all she could say was “baouli” (the child is dead), thus giving rise to the tribe’s name.

Blolo bian (male) and Blolo bla (female) spirit spouses are perhaps the Baule’s greatest artistic and psycho-social achievement, but they are also renowned for sculptures representing bush spirits (Asie usu) (mischievous and potentially malevolent inhabitants of the “bush” or dark country beyond the boundary of the village). They are also known for their masks, which have a range of diplomatic and ritual functions. The function of this mask would seem to be diplomatic; more common, single-headed variants are worn to receive important dignitaries, while the rarer bicephalous masks have the added positive association of twins, which are a good omen for most African groups (most famously – but not uniquely – the Yoruba).

Like most other human societies, the Baule are prey to conspicuous consumption, which is a central key to asserting ones status in the village, and thus ones power and influence. While their carving is among the most refined and restrained in Africa, therefore, artists vie to produce more impressive and beautiful carvings which are often decorated or adorned by their proud owners. This is an exceptionally striking example, and would be a superb addition to any discerning collection or sophisticated domestic setting.

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