Public Art

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

CameroonBabanki peoples

Mask

Wood

H. 50.8 cm (20")

Detroit Institute of Arts, Bequest of W. Hawkins Ferry, 1988.191

Political authority in Africa often takes the dual form of a public, visible dimension and a secret, invisible one. The two-sided nature of power is expressed through masquerades of the Cameroon Grasslands, where each local kingdom is supported and checked by a secret association called Kwifoyn that is its necessary antithesis. Many masks were produced in the congeries of small kingdoms dotting the high Grasslands.

A dance of a mask society during a death ceremony in Mboh Oku, Northwest Province of Cameroon. Photo by Hans-Joachim Koloss.