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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Bambara Brass Mask
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Bambara Brass Mask - X.1030 (LSO)
Origin: Mali
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 14.5" (36.8cm) high x 7.5" (19.1cm) wide
Collection: African
Style: Bambara
Medium: Brass

Location: UAE
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This impressive minimalistic brass mask was made by the Bamana/Bambara group of Mali. It comprises a tall, slim face, greatly extended with a pointed hat. The eyes are small and almond- shaped, clustered closely around the long, sharp nose. The mouth is also very small; the face is reminiscent of Modigliani’s primitivist renderings of the human face. The hatband is a raised section that crossed the forehead, while the hat is in a crested design running antero- posteriorly. The ears are adorned with what may be earrings or perhaps sideburns. Comparatively little is known about Bamana masking traditions compared with their extensively studied neighbours, the Dogon. However, it would have belonged to a prominent member of a secret society. The fact that it is made from metal implies that it was an elite object, as metal was an exceptionally rare and valuable resource in pre-colonial Africa.

The Bambara/Bamana is one of the largest groups in Mali (about 2.5 million) and lives in a savannah grassland area that contrasts strongly with the Dogon heartland. Their linguistic heritage indicates that they are part of the Mande group, although their origins go back perhaps as far as 1500 BC. The Mande-speaking Songhai empire dissolved in the 1600s, and many Mande speakers spread out along the Nigeria River Basin. The Bamana empire arose from these remnant populations in around 1740, and reached its imperial maximum in the 1780s under the rule of N’golo Diarra.

Their society is Mande-like overall, with patrilineal descent and a nobility/vassal caste system. Their complex history is echoed in the systematics of indigenous art traditions. There are four main mask forms, related to various secret societies. Other forms include the famous Chi-Wara headcrest, which was used to encourage good harvests, and heavily encrusted zoomorphic ‘Boli’ figures. Everyday items include iron staffs, door-locks, wooden puppets and equestrian figures, which double as accessories for male initiation ceremonies.

This is an unusual and highly decorative piece of African art.

- (X.1030 (LSO))


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