This image depicts a powerful resonance between two African spirits. Carved from a single block of tropical hardwood, the male fertility figure on the left represents the Yombe ethnic group of Congo. It evokes a cool and serene presence with a placid countenance, arms folded gently over a protruding navel, with knees slightly bent. On the right, from the Gwere People of Côte d’Ivoire, hovers the Forest Spirit Mask. Its aura is unsettling and predatory. Within the Gwere belief system, the Forest Spirit is rendered great reverence–and this mask is worn when communicating with the supernatural being it represents. The mask is hand-built of hardwood, antelope horn, cloth and cowry shells.
Seen here, these two spirits are clearly opposites, both in form and sentiment: one–rounded, relaxed and peaceful, while the other—agitated with aggressive energy. Together, they represent the complex relationship between the continually opposing forces which are the core of human existence.
REFERENCES: 1- Biebuyck, Daniel P. and Nelly Van Den Abbeele. 1984. The Power of Headdresses, Brussels: Tendi. 2- Perani, Judith. 1997. “Crowning Achievements: African Arts of Dressing the Head.” Journal of African Arts. Vol. 30, No. 2. 3- Walker, Roslyn A. 2011. African Headwear: Beyond Fashion. Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art.