This monumental sculptural form is the principle element of a masquerade from Guinea known as D'mba. Its subject is an idealization of womanhood at the zenith of her power, beauty, and affective presence in Baga society. D'mba is honored as the universal mother: her flat breasts suggest a mother of some years, and reveal the selfless dedication with which she has nursed her infants. Until the 1950s, the fully costumed D'mba, performed by male dancers, appeared publicly on many occasions that served as milestones of personal and communal growth: marriage, births, wakes, ancestral commemoration, and planting and harvest festivals. Following its independence in 1958, Guinea was under the strict control of a Marxist regime that discouraged such traditional forms of expression. With the collapse of that government in 1984, Baga society experienced a renaissance of its own, as masquerades such as D'mba were revived.
Given its importance in the African art canon, a D'mba headdress was considered a necessary addition to Rockefeller's collection. In the template René d’Harnoncourt established for the collection, he included the drawing of a D'mba that he considered an "ideal" to achieve through an acquisition. The example he considered as representative of the genre was in the collection of Georges Salles at the time and now at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. He was familiar with this work due to its presentation in the MoMA exhibition African Negro Art in 1935. When this D'mba became available on the market from the gallery of Julius Carlebach in 1956, it filled this gap in the collection.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1956]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1956, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, 1956–1978
Museum of Primitive Art. Masterpieces in the Museum of Primtive Art: Africa, Oceania, North America, Mexico, Central to South America, Peru. Handbook series. New York, NY: Museum of Primitive Art, 1965, pl. 7.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 305.
Fagg, William B. African Sculpture. Washington, DC: International Exhibitions Foundation, 1970, pl. 115.
The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 64.
Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 120, center right.
Lamp, Frederick. Art of the Baga: A Drama of Cultural Invention. New York: Museum for African Art, New York, 1996.