The mask hides as much as it reveals, “denies as much as it affirms”, as Claude Lévi-Strauss asserted. Very often the holder of a secret, the mask conceals that which only the initiated should know.
The mask’s power also lies in its capacity to incarnate spirits, a link between man and his ancestors, between the visible and the invisible world. It is inseparable from a mythical context which structures the mode of existence and thought of the majority of traditional societies.
Central to the life of a group or a community, the mask, an indispensable intercessor, is always active.
Cimier mask, Nigeria, Ejagham, 20th century, Wood, antelope skin, wickerwork, metal, bone, pigments, 72.5 x 54 x 50cm, 2664g, 71.1948.8.2
The small wickerwork structure at the base of the mask allowed it to be worn on the crown. It portrays a young girl whose long braided hair forms spirals. The mask inspired respect: it belonged to a society of Ejagham warriors (Nigeria). It is composed of a carved wooden head onto which was applied moist animal skin which shrank as it dried. The lifelike facial features are striking. Other examples of this type of mask were composed of real human skulls, trophies obtained during combat with the enemy.