John and I have just come back from Ojai, California with some African art to add to our collection. One incredible mask from the Ivory Coast and one from Burkina Faso. They can look scarily voodoo-ish and witch doctor-like standing in the corner of the room, but they are also alive with a devilish sense of spirit and mystery.
This Nafana Bedu Mask comes from the Ivory Coast and is worn by the Nafana people when celebrating after the Yam Festival. This particular mask is used in purification ceremonies to invigorate the community and to renew its sense of well-being. The horned masks are masculine and the feminine ones have a round disc above the face.
In England, where I live for half the year, invigoration of community ceremonies just involves a few beers down the local pub. None of this running around with masks on our heads … we just wave a few hankies and jig about with bells on our legs with the rest of the Morris Men.
This Mossi Mask below is from Burkina Faso. Usually commissioned by the village, this mask was carved to represent a bush spirit and is danced in village festivals honouring harvests, births, weddings and funerals. It now lives in our bathroom … and watches.
Made from wood and home-made paint, the squatting woman with the pointy breasts is a fertility symbol. In the UK, we don’t seem to ‘do’ many fertility symbols showing breasts. We don’t even like to see new mums breast feeding in public for Heaven’s sake – but we do have this – our loud and proud fertility symbol, the Cerne Abbas Giant. Here he is cut into the chalk hills of Dorset. All he needs now is a nice matching mask, and possibly a new handbag.