Mask

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Kpelie mask . Wood, paint. Senofu people, Ivory Coast. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Treatment summary

Removed nail from old mount and infilled losses so mask could be displayed as part of Imagine Africa.

Background

The Senufo people of Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast have a rich sculptural tradition deeply linked to their religious ceremonies.  Masks, sculpture and jewelry are vital parts of rituals, including initiation into poro, the society to which all Senufo men belong. The kpelie mask represents female beauty in the poro initiation ceremony; the characteristic side projections are reminders of human imperfection.

Object description

The mask is wooden, painted matte black.  The face is ovoid with a pointed chin.  Semi-circle, rectangle and triangular projections flank either side of the face, with “leg” extensions on the chin.  The eyes are slits, framed by arched eyebrows and cheek scarification.  The nose is long and narrow, the toothed mouth protruding and scarified.  A diamond protrudes from the forehead.  The headpiece is a miniature of the mask.  The reverse of the mask is teardrop-shaped, roughly carved with flat edges.

Condition

The mask itself was sound, dusty but not particularly dirty.  While there was some wear to the paint on the edges of the mask, this appeared to be from use; there were a few chips that seemed newer based on the light color of the wood underneath.  The main reason for treatment was to remove the nail that had been driven through the wood at the base of the headpiece, as it prevented the mask from lying flat.  The proper right “leg” was broken and had been previously repaired; the repair was stable but a chip needed filling.

Treatment process

The mask was lightly dusted with a soft brush to remove surface particulates.  The head of the nail had been driven halfway through the wood and become lodged inside the mask; it could not be pulled out from the reverse of the mask.  The bent end of the nail was sheared off using wire cutters, then the remainder was pushed through to the front with pliers and gentle hammering.

The areas of loss were prepared with a barrier layer of 5% Paraloid B72 in acetone, then filled with a mixture of alpha cellulose and 2% methyl cellulose in water and painted using Golden acrylics.

Conclusion

The removal of the nail from the mask meant that it could be safely displayed as part of the museum’s Imagine Africa exhibit.  Filling the distracting areas of loss made the mask visually more coherent.

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