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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Senufo Brass Kpeliyee Mask
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Senufo Brass Kpeliyee Mask - PF.5011 (LSO)
Origin: Northern Ivory Coast/Mali
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 15" (38.1cm) high x 6.75" (17.1cm) wide
Catalogue: V27
Collection: African
Style: Senufo
Medium: Brass

Additional Information: as

Location: Great Britain
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This dramatic metal mask was made by the Senufo group, and was worn for meetings and dances of the Poro men’s society. It is elongated, with a rounded back (for wearing). The face is based around a T-bar brows and nose complex, with small eyes and mouth that are much the same size as each other. The chin is pointed, the head surmounted with curved horns and a small face, wearing a five-pronged headdress. Surface detail is restricted to delineation of the face’s major features with incised, dotted lines.

The Senufo live across the Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso, and are one of West Africa’s most artistically important groups. They are governed by a council of elders and the Poro society, and a religious foundation principle stating that ancestors and bush spirits (mandeo) are all around, and must be appeased. This and other beliefs are visible in their artworks.

Masks include kpeliyee (for dances), buffalo (initiations), horse (celebrating Poro elders) and “firespitter” forms, which are worn for crises and funerals. Healers and highly productive farmers are also entitled to wear masks. The most famous sculptures are the “pombibele” rhythm pounders, which represent primordial humanity, and are used to tamp down the earth of prominent Poro members’ graves. Very large kasingele (first ancestor) sculptures were placed in yasungo shrines, and also appeared in the form of birds (sejen) which are carried by initiates, and which symbolise the authority of the Poro elders (katyleeo) over their juniors (poro piibele). Sandogo divination paraphernalia is also known, while secular items are carved in a very specific manner that echo Senufo deities and spirits, thus providing an apotropaic function.

Kpeliyee (there are various spellings) masks are worn for a number of Poro functions, and may be seen by the public at certain festivals. The manners in which they are carved betray their precise origin, through carving method and details such as scarifications. The general characteristics are similar, however, with an elongated face, “legs” protruding from the chin, and an array of flanges surrounding the face in the manner of a beard. The most prestigious examples are often surmounted by flourished with symbolic significance for the group, particularly including birds. Exceptionally, they are carved as twins – which are considered to represent good fortune – or are cast in brass or copper alloy.

This is a striking piece of African art.

- (PF.5011 (LSO))


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