Berz Gallery of African Art

Very Collectible and Multidimensional Ijo Shark Mask

Ijo Tribe, Nigeria

Composition: wood (one piece), nails, pigment, polychrome paint, encrustation Dimensions: 31" (78.74 cm) h Age: early 20th century Provenance: Ex. James Willis, San Francisco (US); Exhibition History: This object was vetted by a committee of tribal art experts and vetted as antique and authentic at San Francisco Tribal Arts Show, February 2011 Certification: Every piece sold includes a handmade custom base and a comprehensive dossier with certificate and authenticity with any additional historical documentation or information pertaining to the object. Description: "The zoomorphic masks of the Ijo include many types that depict water animals such as crabs, hippopotami, and crocodiles. The most common motif, however, is fish, especially fish of prey such as sharks, swordfish, and stingrays, which are depicted with striking realism. This is not surprising, seeing as the Ijo live by fishing in the Niger Delta and face the threat of these dangerous fish every day. These aquatic masks of the Ijo are considered to be incarnations of water spirits (*bou oru*) who ensure the welfare of the community. To placate these spirits and win their favor during the dry period, celebrations lasting several days are held, with masquerade performances accompanied by offerings and invocations. In the group of fish masks, the hammerhead (known as *uguberi*) is a common character who plays the role of the social outcast. The athletic antics of its wearer accompany joyous festivities. These masks also serve an important role even when not being worn: they oversee and arbitrate disputes in Ijo villages. In addition to the purposes mentioned, masks of this type are thought capable of predicting death, minimizing epidemics, and furthering community welfare. This example is aesthetically exceptional and a very high quality illustration which remains in excellent condition. The extended snout is finely balance with the jutting “eyes”, giving the mask even a humanistic quality combined with a dynamic, emotive presence. "