Elephant Headress, Cameroon
Elephant Headress was acquired in January 2011 during the High's annual Collectors' Evening event. During the 19th century when this work was made, elephant masks were among the most prestigious of all the masquerades performed by groups of wealthy, titled men in the small Bamileke kingdoms of the Cameroon Grassfields. The elephant, like the leopard, was a royal symbol, though both elephants and leopards have long since become extinct in Cameroon. These two animals were also considered the alter egos of Bamileke kings, who were described as having the ability to transform into either creature at will.
Elephant masks were referred to as "things of money" because they were profusely ornamented with glass beads made in Venice or Czechoslovakia. The acquisition of this work strengthens the High's holdings of African masks and the art of Cameroon as well as diversify the materials represented in our collection.