Exhibitions/ Art Object

Buffalo Helmet Mask (Kablé)

19th–early 20th century
Burkina Faso, Province du Kénédougou
Northern Tussian or Siemu
Wood, cane, fiber ropes
H. 27 1/2 x W. 14 3/4 x D. 11 7/8in. (69.9 x 37.5 x 30.2cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
Not on view
Initiation into the powerful association is central to spiritual and social practices of Tussian culture in Burkina Faso. In preparation for its most important event that occurs only every forty years, initiates stay in seclusion for three months. They are in turn given the names of a variety of animals associated with tutelary spirits represented through mask forms. These masks become the property of the newly named initiates. This highly abstract and whimsical example consists of a wooden helmet surmounted by a stylized representation of a buffalo, an animal associated with ideas of leadership and prestige. A zigzag representation of a bird, associated with 's leadership, is featured at back. Robert Goldwater's 1963 exhibition Senufo Sculpture from West Africa pioneered a regional approach to presenting African art. The installation highlighted the aesthetic qualities of Senufo art while also touching upon the local contexts of production and use. It at once defined the canon of Senufo art, raised its profile for collectors and museums, and represented a fresh approach to exhibitions of African art. While this mask was integrated within the Senufo corpus at the time of the exhibition, it is now considered to have been created by a northern Tussian carver, in Burkina Faso. Over the last generation, a category like "Senufo" has come to seem less distinct than it was in earlier surveys of African art.
[John J. Klejman, New York, until 1954]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1954, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978

Bulletin de la vie artistique (August 15, 1924), p. 356, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6107937r/f6.item.

Masterpieces of African Art. New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1954, 23.

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. 292.

Roy, Christopher D. African sculpture: The Stanley collection. Iowa City: University of Iowa Museum of Art, 1979.

Trost, Franz. "Bemerkungen zur religiosen organization der Tussian." Archiv für Völkerkunde vol. 40 (1986), pp. 99–114.

Roy, Christopher D. Art of the Upper Volta Rivers. Meudon: Alain et Francoise Chaffin, 1987.

Nooter, Nancy Ingram, and Warren Robbins. African Art in American Collections: Survey 1989. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989, no. 140.

Ketandi Barro, Soungalo Coulibaly, and Hannes Wiesmann. Wín wɛlɔ dúkúrí: Dictionnaire toussian-français, français-toussian. Banfora, Burkina Faso: Société Internationale de Linguistique, 2004.

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