Djenné

By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

MaliDjenné style

Mask

Clay

W. 17 cm (7")

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.497

This most unusual terracotta mask is large enough for actual use, but it is unknown whether it was intended for the living or the dead (Roy 1994: 14).  McIntosh, while unwilling to speculate on individual objects or motifs, does feel a broader pattern of use is discernible. Taking the dates and frequency of figure appearance at old Djenné, he proposes that it shows “a gradual growth in the ambiguity of belonging [of the diverse people and communities being united into a city] and a production of symbols [sculpture] to resolve that ambiguity, building strength by the mid-first millennium as the settlement achieved urban status” (1989: 82).  In the 13th and 14th centuries, figures were purposefully desecrated in old Djenné; one had its head knocked off, just as Islam was making inroads into the area. Shortly thereafter the sculptures ceased to be produced, and a new belief system, Islam, became the unifying force.