Wanyugo Mask


Artwork explanation

This zoomorphic mask belongs to the Wabele society, active among the Senufo people. The task of this group is to detect and destroy negative forces (Dee bele) and harmful spirits (Nika'abele) who, in the shape of monsters or wild animals, threaten people in times of crisis or vulnerability, as, for instance, during burial ceremonies.

The threatening appearance of the Wanyugo mask benefits their purpose, powerful jaws with sharp teeth, recalling a crocodile's or hyena's snout, and tusks like those of a warthog, underscore the aggressive nature of these masks, which on occasion are said to have emitted swarms of bees or blasts of fire.

The masks derive their power from magical/medicinal substances (Wah) placed in the small cup on their heads, which in this Janus-headed example is held by two chameleons. But the magic cannot take full effect until the mask is supplemented by a costume of cotton fabric, and danced to musician context of the ceremony.

Due to the dangerous forces they embody, masks, costumes and appurtenances are treated with extreme caution, and are kept in an isolated shelter in the bush, or stored together with the paraphernalia of the Poro society in a sacred grove.

Older examples of the Wanyugo made in the 1950's are marked by a strikingly simple composition. More recent versions, in contrast, show great elaboration and are brightly painted.


Artwork Description

To grow knowledge and wisdom


Exhibition history

CAMA Gallery | Cote dIvoires Peoples | Exhibition | Cote d Ivoire

Tehran Gallery

Cote d Ivoire

solo exhibition, 07 December - 27 December


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