Exhibition GalleryD’mba Female Headdress


Wood, pigment, upholstery nails ca. 20th century

H. 44 x W. 17 in. approximately

The D’mba Headdress is a widely known symbolic mask characterized by a prominent nose, protruding chin, strong neck, and elongated breasts. Historically worn during times of life cycle rituals, this D’mba headdress is indicative of childbearing and nurturing. The mask represents the ideal picture of mature motherhood. When identified as a “mother of the poro child,” the sculpture celebrates the authority and leadership of poro elders who are considered the metaphorical mothers.

In ceremonies, a tall dancer will typically put the mask over their shoulders and hold it by the bottom of the front legs. The neck and head show up very high off the ground, while the cloth and raffia completely hide the dancer’s body from the viewers. The D’mba is activated at weddings, births, wakes, ancestral rituals, harvest festivals, and welcoming ceremonies. Poro refers to a central social institution to which all men within the region belong.


 Met Museum

 Speaking of Objects

 Male and Female Poro Altar Figures


Wood, Pigment CA. 20th Century

H. 62 1/2 x W. 21 x D. 19 in.

This is representative of the variety of large-scale bird sculptures that were produced by the Senufo people of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The bird, or “sejen”, does not necessarily represent a specific type of bird. Individuals sometimes refer to bird sculpture as “kasinge”, a reference to the first ancestor. The term Senufo refers to a linguistic group comprised of roughly thirty related dialects within the Gur language family. Typically, the birds stand guard protecting members of the Senufo village in the sacred grove of Poro. The birds are carried in processions and sometimes worn on the heads as a dramatic display of strength during some initiation and funeral rituals. Poro refers to the central social institution to which all men within the region belong. The term Senufo refers to a linguistic group comprised of roughly thirty related dialects within the Gur language family. Poro refers to the central social institution to which all men within the region belong.

At the DuSable Black History Museum, the Sejen Bird Spirit Animal is positioned in front of the Equiano exhibition entrance, symbolically standing guard over the village.


The Met

Senufo Sculpture

Poro Altar FiguresHeaddress/Mask Chokwe Cikunza


Burlap, pigment, and raffia, on wood frame ca. 20th century

H. 43 x W. 14 in. approximately

The Chokwe people of Angola, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia, are known as some of the most skilled wood carvers in Africa. They resisted colonization far longer than most peoples of the region, despite repeated incursions by the Portuguese and other Europeans. The Chokwe use masks in many contexts. The makishi (dead) dance is performed at the end of adult initiation rituals for boys, called mukanda, primarily in Zambia. The cikunza mask represents an ancestor and is worn by an older man to teach boys the knowledge they will need as men, particularly relating to hunting and sexual relationships. Unlike most African masked dancers, the cikunza does not wear a raffia fiber suit, but instead paints his body in bright geometric patterns. After the boys are circumcised, the newly minted adults remove the masks from their relatives and swear an oath to maintain the secrets of their identities. The language of the Chokwe people is a Bantu language.


 Chokwe Cikunza

 Chokwe Masks

 Chokwe in the U.S.


Wood, pigment, cowrie shells, raffia, glass, nuts, grass, rope, textile ca. 20th century

H. 23 x W. 16 in. approximately

The Suku People of the Southern Democratic Republic of Congo are credited for this helmet mask. The mask includes red and blue for the primary pigment with a full raffia neck with cowrie shells and dried nuts. This mask is used during a boy’s ritual to manhood. The DuSable Musuem collection’s mask features a seated divinity figure on the head. Characterized by protruding almond-shape eyes and painted eyebrows; three vertical paint marks under each eye; each quadrant of face marked by the predominant color blue. The term Hemba refers to the Hemba people, a farming community led by chief Niembo.


 Art of the Yaka and Suku

The Tribal Arts of Africa


Wood ca. 20th century

H. 31 1/2 x W. 9 in. approximately

The masks, known as kpeliye’e, feature delicate oval faces with geometric projections at the sides. These masks were worn with full body ceremonial garments during funerals, and also as a punishment to lawbreakers. Cut and raised patterns symbolizing ethnic marks traditionally made on the skin during ritualistic rites, adorn the smooth, glossy wooden surfaces. Considered feminine, the masks honor deceased Senufo elders, highlighting their grace and beauty. They provide a complement to the masculine Senufo helmet masks. Both masks and ceremonies are organized by fraternal organizations in the region.

 Senufo Unbound Dynamics of Identity  

 The Language of Beauty in African Art

 Speaking of Objects

The Met  


Wood, Pigment ca. 20th Century

H. 29 1/2 x W. 6 3/4 in. approximately

The Winiama people carve several mask types that feature one or two flat, curving, vertical horns paired side-by-side, or rising from the top of the head. The mouths of Winiama masks are usually open oval shapes, with angular corners, broad lips, and barred teeth. The masks of the Winiama mainly depict bush spirits and spiritual beings who adopted animalistic forms. The most frequently portrayed animals are antelope, buffalo, warthog, hornbill, hyena and snake.  The animal depictions are extremely stylized in form. Winiama spirit animal masks are often so stylized that they resemble no recognizable animals. Villagers of Ouri, wear these masks during ritualistic masquerade ceremonies.


 Burkina Faso’s Case by Case

 The Art of Burkina Faso


H. 67 x W. 12 in.

Wood, Pigment ca. 20th century

The Bwa mask, also known as the Plank mask, represents numerous spirit characters that appear in the myths of Bwa peoples families and clans. Bwa wooden masks are associated with oral histories taught to young initiates and inscribed upon their bodies. These masks are believed to embody supernatural forces that act on behalf of the families that use them. The iconography depicted on the masks is carefully explained to the artist/maker by clan elders. These graphic elements are not solely drawn upon for their aesthetic qualities but are also symbolic. The checkerboard pattern of white and black refers to both the animal skins that are used to sit on, the white represents the clean fresh hides assigned to youths and the black suggests the darkened skins owned by the elders. Less literally, the juxtaposition of the white and black squares suggests the separation of good from evil and light from dark. When the mask is used in performances such as funerals and agricultural festivities, the masks are meant to embody nature or ancestor spirits. Similarly, they dance at initiation rituals to help introduce young children to the responsibilities of adulthood.


 Art of the Upper Volta Rivers

Speaking of Objects

Humanties, Art-Africa


Wood, metal, nails, mirrored glass, pigment ca. 20th century

H. 27 1/8 x W. 16 in. Approximately

This sculpture is from the Republic of the Congo circa possibly late 19th to early 20th century. The figure’s forward leaning posture with hands placed akimbo on the hips is the aggressive attitude of one who challenges fearlessly. There are remnants of an abdominal cavity meant for medicinal matter that originally attracted the figure’s defining force. The medicine was placed by a ritual specialist (nganga) who created the figure along with the help of a Kongo sculptor. The metals embedded in the figure’s broad torso attest to its primary role as the witness and enforcer of affairs critical to its community. The combination of organic and inorganic substances, chosen for their cultural significance, may include plant fibers, stones, resins, relics and pigments, among other objects. The abdomen has a protruding rectangular mirror-covered box, along with an overturned pottery bowl pierced with nails that serve as the main receptacles for the medicinal substances.


 Gods Spirits Ancestors

The Recently Acquired Kongo Magaaka Power Figure  

 Kongo Alisa, LaGamma


Burlap, wood, pigment, raffia ca. 20th Century

H. 46 x W. 16 in. Approximately

Kòmò and kònò (Sierra Leone) associations construct helmet masks that express the organizations’ power through their mesmerizing and shocking appearances. Kono masks are associated with abstract qualities of judgment and discernment of good and evil. This mask depicts a mythical beast, a composite creature loosely based on both an elephant and crocodile yet heavily encrusted with sacrificial materials. The creation of this work combined the efforts of a professional sculptor to produce the sculpture with the knowledge of a kònò leader to add complementary esoteric materials to its surface.


Speaking of Objects


H. 36 x W. 22 in. Approximately

Wood, Pigment ca. 20th century

This Helmet mask is a Senufo mask typically referred to as kponyugu , which means “head of the Poro.” The Senufo kponyugu masks are both horizontal composite animal forms with long, projecting horns, and a gaping mouth. The mask also features fearsome elements such as sharp teeth and claws. These details relate to Senufo cosmology, legends, and beliefs about the connections between certain animals and the ancestral and nature-spirits that connect the living.  The mask’s main usage is to be presented at a burial or funeral of a deceased member of the association in order to escort them to the other world, all while protecting the rest of the community from supernatural threats. The term Senufo refers to a linguistic group comprised of roughly thirty related dialects within the Gur language family. Poro refers to the central social institution to which all men within the region belong.


Speaking of Objects

Senufo Sculptures

Poro Altar Figures


Wood, Pigment, upholstery nails ca. 20th century

H. 68 x W. 26 in. Approximately

The Senufo artists carved openwork designs into the planks and painted them with geometric patterns similar to those found on textiles. Pierced panels like this one commonly feature stylized human, animal, or nature spirit figures at the center. The Senufo artists of northern Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) produce a rich variety of sculptures. These sculptures are typically associated with Poro, a society guided by “the Ancient Mother”, a female ancestral spirit. Adult Senufo men all belong to Poro. During initiations into Poro, young men are taught through the use of these sculptural figures. The society maintains the religious and historical traditions of the past.


 Encyclopedia Britannica

 Senufo Headdress


Wood, Pigment ca. 20th century

H. 27 x W. 9 x D. 6 in.

This spirit animal mask was carved by the Dogon Peoples of Mali, West Africa. The Dogon are indigenous to the central plateau region of Mali, south of the Niger River, near the cliffs of Bandiagara. This mask is used for Dama rituals, an important commemorative ceremony in Dogon culture. Hundreds of masked elders perform a large-scale spectacle in honor of a passed elder using animal, human, and abstract-form masks. Each mask represents different facets of the life around them and replicates the lives of the ancestors. The ceremony seeks to restore order in the universe after death’s disruption.


African Art Dogon Myths Dwellers

Dogon Masks Structural Meaning Studies

Kate Ezra – Art of the Dogon

Antelope Walu Mask