Mask, PRM 1938.15.69© Pitt Rivers Museum
I am busy working on a new display in the Museum focusing on Nigerian masks and masquerade. While looking for masks that have not been on display, I came across an interestingly shaped, brightly painted one in a number of pieces.
|Photo taken by Edward R. Chadwick in 1930s, |
PRM19188.8.131.52 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Gwilym Iwan Jones gave the mask to the Museum in this condition in 1938 and provided this photo to help with its reconstruction. Here we can see the carver, as well as the complete mask. Unfortunately we do not know the man’s name, only that he is from the Ikwerre region of the Niger Delta in south-east Nigeria. If anyone recognises who this is please do get in touch.
The mask represents a masquerade character called Abam, a predatory fish. It is worn on top of the head with a masquerade costume concealing the wearer’s face. In the two photos below, taken during the 1930s, you can see Ikwerre men wearing similar style masks to perform owu or water-spirit masquerades.
In the Collections
Department of the Pitt Rivers Museum we look after the information about the
objects. We are always keen to find out as much as we can. So in November I met
up with the very knowledgeable John Picton, Emeritus Professor of African Art at
the University of London’s School of Oriental
and African Studies. John confirmed the Ikwerre people, who are often regarded
as part of the southern Igbo peoples, still perform masquerades wearing impressive masks like this.
| Probably both taken by Edward R. Chadwick in the 1930s|
Right: PRM 19184.108.40.206 Left: PRM 19220.127.116.11© Pitt Rivers Museum
|John and I studying the mask © Pitt Rivers Museum|
|The reassembled mask ready for display |
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Miriam Orsini, a Conservation intern at the Museum, has carefully reassembled the mask with the help of the old black and white photo. My colleagues Alan Cooke and Chris Wilkinson, from the Technical Services Department, are currently devising suitable fittings to enable this mask to be included in the forthcoming Nigerian mask and masquerade display. I will let you know when the display is installed, and if you have an opportunity to visit the Museum I encourage you to come and see this mask for yourself, as well as the rest of the display.
Senior Assistant Curator
To see my previous blog posts about African masks, click on the links below:
To read more about Igbo masks and masquerades see:
Picton, John, 1988, ‘Ekpeye Masks and Masking’ in African Arts Volume 21, Number 2 (February), pages 46-53 & 94.
Jones, G.I., 1989, Ibo Art. Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications Ltd.