Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate September 2001

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Art of Africa Senufo Face Mask Cote d'Ivorie 19th-20th century Wood, horns, fiber, cotton cloth, feathers, sacrificial materials The enormous continent of Africa is inhabited by hundreds of distinct ethnic tribes. While African arts reflect the vast differences between the various tribes, masks are a significant element throughout the many cultures. They hold symbolic visualizations of unseen spiritual forces. This Senufo face mask not only holds great symbolic importance, but it also holds great aesthetic value.

Members of Poro, an exclusive men's society of Senufo, wore the mask at funerals in honor of deceased ancestors.1 Funerary traditions in the African culture require immense concentration on costumes and the external appearance of those attending the ceremony. A mask is the focal point of a costume ensemble that oblige for extensive detail. The mask is small and finely carved allowing great detail to emerge. The delicate oval shaped face features a smooth glossy surface, ornamented with raised and incised scarification patterns.

Gender distinction played a large role in African art, where the mask honor the Senufo women with grace and beauty and compliment the aggressive male characteristics. For example, the long and lean forms at the base of the face allude to traditional hairstyles worn by the women. Feathers and animal horns attached are an example of the unusual and enhance the mask's power to combat negative forces in their community.

The mask appealed to me due to its striking appearance. It is composed of many different materials, which reflect African creativity and imagination. The elaborate carved patterns are quite impressive; as is the impression it makes on the spectator with the forceful facial expression. The mask is displayed unaccompanied, in a glass showcase, which is another reason why this piece of African art caught my attention amongst others. While the room...