Bamileke Artist, Cameroon
Glass beads, wood, cloth, and raffia
17 1/2 x 23 3/8 x 20 1/8 inches
Purchase through funds provided by patrons of the Second Annual Collectors Evening, 2011
On View - Wieland Pavilion, Lower Level, Gallery 102, African Collection
During the nineteenth 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 animals have long since become extinct in Cameroon. They 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.