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Helmet Mask Permanent Collection:
Sub-Saharan African Art:
Helmet Mask

Nigeria, Idoma (?), 20th century A.D. Wood, kaolin, charcoal, 16 1/2 x 9 x 9 in. (41 x 23 x 23 cm). 1994.4.705

Masks are easily portable and therefore often develop "second careers" far from their places of origin. They are also widely copied, though usually with local modifications or "improvements." This mask of the northern Igbo Maiden type (Agbogho Mmuo) was probably made by a neighboring Idoma artist who had seen an Igbo version in performance, perhaps at an Idoma funeral or in a nearby Igbo village. It could also have been made by an Igbo artist for an Idoma masquerade group. The whitened face and elaborate hairstyle look immediately familiar, but the face is different from those on northern Igbo masks: fuller and more rounded, and with Idoma keloid scars on the temples and the more prominent mouth and teeth seen on Idoma face masks.

Meanings are easily detachable when masks and mask styles travel, and there is no reason to assume that this represents a "Beautiful Maiden spirit" in this new context. Idoma masks resembling persons usually perform as a male and female pair, which the Idoma jokingly refer to as "husband and wife" spirits.


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