Berz Gallery of African Art

Magnanimous, Bold, and Brilliant Elephant Spirit Mask of the Igbo Izzi Tribe (Nigeria)

Igbo Izzi, Nigeria

hardwood (one piece); kaolin and pigment stain (layers from reapplications from multiple uses), encrustation from shrine applications and applied offerings Dimensions: 20.5" (h) x 12" (w) / 52.07 cm (h) x 30.48 cm (w) Age: turn of 20th century Provenance: Ex. Olivier Larroque, Nimes, France; Ex. collection Jacques Blankaert, Brussels This beautifully expressive elephant spirit mask (known in Igbo language as 'Ogbodo Enyi') was danced as a symbol of strength and clarity for the Igbo community. There are more extraordinary details about this mask and its history than one can easily describe. One, for example, is that it has been centuries since elephants roamed Nigeria, and this type of abstracted image an elephant is the result of historical verbal description rather than artistic license. A very early, hardwood (one piece) Igbi Izzi elephant spirit headdress, with profound presence and great strength in person. The rear ears feature carved faces with dark pigment and kaolin pigment statins with polychrome paint which has worn away over the varied entirety of the mask. There is wonderful wear from human handling on the abstract elephant "trunk" atop the forehead. The mask is cubist but not overly so, making it a very balanced work; the small faces at one time had reddish ochre pigment applied on their the eyes which is now barely detectable but present. Bonnie Weston (1984) reports that in 1975, when an epidemic killed many Igbo-Izzi children, a local oracle offered a successful course of healing. The oracle asked that women dance Ogbodo Enyi to show their gratitude. In subsequent years, community women have demonstrated their social identity through their own masquerades. The now-female masks chase young men, just as male dancers used to harass young women (Weston 1984:157-8). For many African art collectors and modern art collectors who venture into the African diaspora now and again, the Igbo Izzi elephant mask is one of the unquestionably favorite masks to view and own; it has an energy and presence that can change a room, either on the wall or standing alone on a custom made base (included with this mask); it’s wild abstraction has inspired prominent contemporary artists spanning back to abstract impressionists. Photo of dancer (above) copyright "Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos" by Herbert M. Cole and Chike G. Aniakor, Univ of California Museum of Cultural History; (October 1984), page 131 plate 28.