20th Century AD
16″ (40.6cm) high x 13″ (33.0cm) wide
Grasslands of Central Cameroon
Power, strength, dominion and religion, are all connected with art and the king in Cameroon society. The king, or Fon, was the focal point of life, around which everything revolved. The ancient kings were reputedly endowed with supernatural power that allowed them to change into animals. With or without psychic ability the king had great responsibilities, including guaranteeing fertility of the fields and fecundity of the women! Regalia and various elaborate works of art were created for the king and visiting dignitaries. These included masks of a variety of different purposes, often designed for different societies within a tribe. For instance, the Kwifon owned masks that, according to tradition, had been created and consecrated by ancestors themselves.
This remarkable mask is composed of many features, different perspectives, and a power of presentation that capitalizes on its three-dimensional aspect. The main figure shows a male smiling broadly, his eyes wide open as if in wonder or surprise. On his head is a sort of crown with three small mask-like heads. Each face has an intriguing, almost cherubic expression, instantly appealing and delightful. They probably represent ancestral spirits, watching over their living relative. For many African people the souls of their ancestors are a very real presence and participate in their daily lives. To make offerings of worship and reverence were important and could result in heartfelt feelings of respect and love. Imagine this mask worn in union with many others, all dancing together in unison, with energy and great emotion. To capture these many feelings in art is the artist’s triumph; as in this remarkable mask, blending skilled workmanship with humor, honor, and wisdom as homage to the indestructible human spirit.