Helmet mask


This is a rather large headdress of over a metre high. It consists of a cane frame with a thin, pale brown, organic fibre stretched over it. At the base is a helmet or hat with two curved peaks, one convex, the other concave, arranged in the manner of a bird's bill. Under the bottom peak is a protruding section like a tongue of about 20cm. The helmet is decorated simply with a line of brown triangles outlined in red. On the inside of the helmet the cane frame is visible.
From the top of the head piece obtrudes a stick about 50cm long also covered in fibre. This forms the neck of a large, broad paddle-shaped head above it. Two huge, circular, recessed eyes dominate this head. These are outlined with caning with additional pupil and outlining detail in dark brown and red paint. Painted directly onto the head at its base is some, relatively abstract, patterning resembling a mouth. A nose is painted in dark brown and red between the eyes with two pinched nostrils, its slim bridge expands half way over each eye to form a brow. The back of the head is adorned with alternate red and dark brown zigzagged lines.
Some evidence of use is apparent with some wear and dirt on the fibre coating, especially on the back of the helmet but there are no rips. It is unclear whether the fibre was worn before application to the headdress.

The Baining of the Gazelle Peninsula are famous for their large and dramatic masks, worn during the day and night dancing ceremonies (see Rubin, 1984: I: 116, for a colossal example from the north-west Baining, which is over twenty-three feet high). The present example comes from the central Baining and is a type of helmet mask called 'kavat', which are distinguished by large eyes and a tongue-like projection at the mouth. These were worn for night dances, and Corbin (1979) states that the designs refer to a variety of natural and manufactured forms. They are painted in black and red, and the back of the upper disc has a lateral band of zigzag designs in the same colours.
In: Steven Hooper (ed.). 1997. Catalogue to the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. University of East Anglia.
Object details
Type of object: Dance mask
Type category: Costume and jewellery
Material: Cane, Organic fibre
Width: 500 mm
Height: 1195 mm
Depth: 370 mm
Style/Period: Steven Hooper
Date range: 1900-1970 CE
Discovery site: Steven Hooper
Personal name: -
Role: -
Culture: Baining
Record data
Artworld id: 11387
Current accession number: UEA 175
Former accession number: -
Credit line: -
Recorded by: CB
Record date: Thu, 1st Jan 1970
Copyright: Copyright© by the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich, 2002. All Rights reserved