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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Cameroon Grasslands : Four-faced mask
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Four-faced mask - PF.6950 (LSO)
Origin: Cameroon Grasslands
Circa: 20 th Century AD

Collection: African
Medium: Wood, pigment

Location: United States
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Multi-faced masks are known for several groups, including the Mende, Gola, Vai and F’ang. However, while rare, the facial features of these variants nonetheless tend to resemble typical masks in the group to which they belong. In the current case the faces are somewhat ambiguous, in their extravagant colouring, exaggerated features and extra details such as the large rims around the eyes. Two faces are dark, two pale, a distinction that is usually made between the sexes in cultures such as the Baga.

The closest match that can be found is an adaptation of traditional Grasslands forms, specifically the Bamun group. The nature of rule and hierarchy of Grasslands groups varies somewhat, but in general terms the king/fon/leader of the group and his courtly associates are equipped with regalia and prestige objects for the general purpose of conspicuous consumption. Societies and even private individuals were permitted to hold various sorts of regalia according to their status, leading to a proliferation of craftsmen and artists who occupied valuable social roles within the community. Most of the figures commemorate deceased royals whose memory is sacred to the continuity of the royal succession.

Masks such as this would have been worn in ceremonies commemporating extant and past members of the royal family. This is a stirring and impressive piece of African art.

- (PF.6950 (LSO))


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