Sample Essay on Art of Africa

Art of Africa

Introduction

The art focused on in this essay is the mask of the Bobo people of Burkina Faso. The masks of the Bobo people reveal their spirituality. It reveals the universal nature of God. The Bobo masks show how different personalities were impersonated and how different events symbolized important cultures in the society. This analysis argues that the Bobo masks are used to achieve the political, social and religious functions of the people. There are various types of Bobo masks with different functions. Peek and Yankah indicate that the masks take on a character, which the Bobo people’s God uses to repress antisocial conducts. The Bobo masks define certain characters that are then used to define an event in the society. The events play an important role in shaping the political, social and religious beliefs of the society[i].

Formal Analysis

Bobo masks are mostly made of wood, but there are a few that were made of bronze. The masks are however differentiated based on their purposes. There are leaf masks, and those who wear them do not dance. There are fiber masks, in which the real mask is made of wood, and the wearer puts on fiber as the other part of his clothing. Fiber masks are allowed to dance, unlike leaf masks[ii].

There are also creature masks. These masks act like the animals they represent, for example if it is a ram’s head mask, it will mimic the actions of a ram. The rest of the masks are abstract considering the life form they symbolize. The masks are characterized by geometric designs of different colors. The three main colors used previously were white, black and red. Recent masks, however, show other colors such as yellow, blue and green. Animals that the Bobo people of Burkina Faso believed to represent purity were used for purification before the planting season and after harvesting to drive away evil spirits. Wearers of the masks would, therefore, choose animal representatives that symbolize purity or the purpose of the ceremony. A ram’s mask, for example, represented purity[1].

Discussion: Function and Context for the Artwork

Masks are the main source of expression of the Bobo people’s art. The Bobo masks were always made by the blacksmiths and were used in important occasions. The masks are used to protect the people from evil spirits. It is believed that God left his son Wuro, in the bush to protect man. The Bobo people, therefore, use the masks with images of animals to represent the presence of the son of God among them. They are free to create masks impersonating any animal. This could also be an explanation to the kind of God they have. A God that appears in different forms, but still manages to protect the people irrespective of the form he takes[2].

The masks are incarnations of their God and the act of wearing them serves as a celebration, a recall and a renewal of a promise made between the people of Bobo and the son of God. The masks are worn to bless the community during harvests, to protect the community from evil spirits, to bless the land for more produce and during funerals. They are always made of wood and take different forms, for example, there can be a ram’s head mask, an antelope’s head, or any other. The masks are also worn for different roles. There are masks worn during sacred occasions, there are those worn for entertainment, and there are those worn during funerals. The masks are also worn during men’s initiations. The masks are the same, the difference in function is seen in the cloth, fiber, and leaves used to signify the occasion. During a funeral occasion, the masks men take part in a sequence of rites which soothe the spirits and direct the dead to the next world. The masks are a symbol of the society and its beliefs. They also represent the people’s culture[3][4].

The Bobo people have two types of leaf masks; the biwera sowiye, and the sibe sowiye. Birewa sowiye is the mask worn by farmers while the Sibe sowiye is only meant for funerals[5].

The fiber masks are also of two kinds; the Forkoma sowiye, and the Torosye. These two masks are differentiated by the supporting clothing that the wearers put on. The Forkoma sowiye wearers only come out at night in order to hide themselves from the initiated young men. The Torosye is used to impersonate public figures and to gather donations. This mask still holds its ancestral importance and is respected[6][7].

The main themes here are impersonation and diversity. Impersonation defines the wearer to the society and the members of the society are expected to respond with respect for the impersonated person and culture. Diversity has been used to differentiate cultural events. This differentiation emphasized their meaning and importance to the society. These themes are also evident in the modern masks which impersonate famous heroes, and are used to define an event. In a birthday party for example, wearers may use butterfly masks to signify the beauty of the event. In Halloween party, masks are scary or anonymous to also signify the theme of the event[8].

Consider the cloth masks that the wearers are allowed to imitate any subject of choice. This includes animals, events of people’s daily lives, or even an individual. The masks are only worn for a dance at night. The performers are free to choose the character of the outfit, color, and the type of cloth. These masks allowed the Bobo people to express their emotions, but with more focus on humor. It made the community members laugh and enjoy[9].

The same principle is applied in Halloween parties. Halloween gives its participants the freedom to express their feelings through their dress code and masks.

There are also wooden masks such as the nwenke and the molo. These are both sacred masks. Sacred masks of the Bolo people were used to incarnate the son of their God Wuro. The masks impersonate animals, but do not stand for the animals. They symbolize the different forms of spirits that protected the son of their God in the wilderness[10].

 

The masks were used as a means of ensuring order in the society. According to the Bobo people, their God gave life and they believed that the life in their harvests belonged to the Gods. For one to cut the millets before blessings is wrong. To ensure that there is order, the masks of leaves which belong to the farmers, purify the harvest. This is usually done every year. It is believed that the masks absorb the evil forces that might cause disease and conflict and take them back to the bushes. If the spirits are left in the village, they may cause disaster in the form of infertility or disease. The masks also conduct sacrifices to the God to appease him. The Bolo people of Burkina Faso have no central system of governance and these cultural practices help maintain order in the society. Roy indicates that the fiber masks are used to integrate Dwo’s different forms into social groupings. The leaf masks are used to incorporate the Dwo’s complete form into the society. They enable man to connect to the innate world.

In the initiation ceremonies, the masks are used to guide the boys to the next phase of life. There are stages in the initiation and each stage marks the important beliefs of the society. An example is, during initiation, the boys are put to death by a so mole, a death mask. Their rebirth is then symbolized by eating of specific food that also symbolizes life. The boys consume fish or millet that holds value to life according to their beliefs. They are required to learn about the post-cosmogonic forms of their God. This is symbolized in the making of fiber kele masks[11].

 

Conclusion

The Bobo people of Burkina Faso have several different masks. It is indicated that these masks were used in initiation, sacred, and purification ceremonies. It is however believed that each mask had a specific meaning in each ceremony. For example, the ram’s head mask represented purity. The animals were used o curve the masks because it is believed that they protected the son of Lord Wuro in the wilderness. The animals, therefore, represent the safeguard from different species of all sizes and kinds in the bush. This analysis has shown that Bobo masks have common themes with the modern masks. After the first stage of initiation, the men now go to the bush for further training.

Bibliography

Denise, M. (2008). African Influences in Modern Art”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Heritage Auction Galleries (2007). Important African and Oceanic Art Auction. Dallas, Texas: Heritage Capital Corporation.

Roy, C. D. (n.d.). The Art Of Burkina Faso. University Of Iowa. Retrieved from:

http://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/topic-essays/show/37?start=68

Smith, R. (11 January 2008). Face Time: Masks, Animal to Video. The New York Times

Werness, H. B. (2003). Continuum Encyclopedia of Native Art: Worldview, Symbolism, and Culture in Africa, Oceania, and North America. New York: A&C Black.

Peek, P. M. and Yankah, K. (2004). African Folklore: An Encyclopedia.

[1] Hope B. W. (2003). Continuum Encyclopedia of Native Art: Worldview, Symbolism, and Culture in Africa, Oceania, and North America. New York: A&C Black.

[2] Christopher, D. R. (n.d). The Art Of Burkina Faso. University Of Iowa. Retrieved from:

http://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/topic-essays/show/37?start=68

[3] Christopher, D. R. (n.d). The Art Of Burkina Faso. University Of Iowa. Retrieved from:

http://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/topic-essays/show/37?start=68

[4] Hope B. W. (2003). Continuum Encyclopedia of Native Art: Worldview, Symbolism, and Culture in Africa, Oceania, and North America. New York: A&C Black.

[5] Christopher, D. R. (n.d). The Art Of Burkina Faso. University Of Iowa. Retrieved from:

http://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/topic-essays/show/37?start=68

[6] Christopher, D. R. (n.d). The Art Of Burkina Faso. University Of Iowa. Retrieved from:

http://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/topic-essays/show/37?start=68

[7] Roberta S. (11 January 2008). Face Time: Masks, Animal to Video. The New York Times

[8] Murrell, D. (2008). African Influences in Modern Art”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[9] Christopher, D. R. (n.d). The Art Of Burkina Faso. University Of Iowa. Retrieved from:

http://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/topic-essays/show/37?start=68

[10] Heritage Auction Galleries (2007). Important African and Oceanic Art Auction. Dallas, Texas: Heritage Capital Corporation.

 

[11] Roy, C. D. (n.d.). The Art Of Burkina Faso. University Of Iowa. Retrieved from:

http://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/topic-essays/show/37?start=68

 

[i] P. M. Peek and K. Yankah. (2004). African Folklore: An Encyclopedia. London: Routledge.

[ii] B. W. Hope. (2003). Continuum Encyclopedia of Native Art: Worldview, Symbolism, and Culture in Africa, Oceania, and North America. New York: A&C Black.