Mossi peoples / Mask with Female Figure (Karan-wemba) / 19th-20th centuryMossi peoples
Mask with Female Figure (Karan-wemba)
19th-20th century

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Creator Nationality: African; Central African; Burkinabe; Mossi
Creator Name-CRT: Mossi peoples
Title: Mask with Female Figure (Karan-wemba)
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1800
Creation End Date: 1999
Creation Date: 19th-20th century
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: Wood, metal
Dimensions: H. 29 1/2 in. (74.9 cm)
AMICA Contributor: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.206.84
Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Throughout the savanna region of West Africa, commemorative funerals pay tribute to the memory of deceased elders with performances of music, dance, and masks. Among the Mossi of Burkina Faso, a wooden face mask surmounted by a female figure appears at the funerals of revered women. The mask honors a woman whose great age, wisdom, and experience elevated her to the rank of a living ancestress, an ideal intermediary between the living and the spirits of the family's ancestors. In this work the artist has depicted such a woman at the height of her physical beauty, her youthful body adorned with the scarification patterns traditionally applied after the birth of her first child. These incised linear patterns complement the figure's strong back, rounded thighs, broad hips, and full, projecting breasts. The crescent-shaped coiffure, metal armlets, and pierced ears (which once held metal or beaded earrings) further enhance the beauty of the figure and reflect Mossi ideals of personal embellishment.

The stylized oval face mask, with its central vertical ridge, indicates an origin in the Yatenga region. Mossi masks from this area resemble the masking styles of the Dogon of Mali and reflect their shared history. Five centuries ago, when the Mossi states were founded, some Dogon living in this area were assimilated into Mossi society, while others fled to the present home of the Dogon around the Bandiagara cliffs.

AMICA ID: MMA_.1979.206.84
AMICA Library Year: 2000
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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