Komo Society Mask
Unidentified Bamana artist, late 19th or early 20th century
Segou, Koulikouro, or Sikasso region, Mali
Wood, metal, antelope horns, porcupine quills, organic materials
Soul Container (Eraminho)
Unidentified Bijago artist, late 19th or early 20th century
Orango Island, Bijagos Island, Guinea-Bissau
Wood, earth, crushed plant materials, copper alloy chain, organic materials
Eraminho are repositories for the souls of the dead. According to Bijago beliefs, a person’s soul lives on after the body, but only as long as it is remembered by the person’s family. Thus it is necessary to create a repository for the soul and provide it with sacrifices.
Mask with a Hinged Jaw (Bu Gle)
Unidentified Dan artist, 19th century
Wood, organic materials, monkey skin, iron nails
Coffin in the Form of a Sneaker, 1990
Paa Joe (Ghanaian, born 1945)
Teshie, Greater Accra region, Ghana
Wood, metal, pigment, fabric
In some regions of Ghana, it is typical of the shape and style of a coffin to make a personal statement by reflecting the profession, interests, or characteristics of the deceased. The mother of many children might have a coffin in the shape of a hen with chicks. In this case, it is a Nike sneaker, a symbol of status and modernity in the late twentieth century. As people make the transition from one world to the unknown next, an object (a coffin) representing another object (in this case, a shoe) provides comforting familiarity.
Epa Mask, late 19th or early 20th century
Unidentified Yoruba artist (circa 1880–1954), or school
Osi-llorin, Osun State, Nigeria
Epa masks are used in masking festivals commemorating the deeds of heroic ancestral warriors, whose stylized faces are represented at the bottom of this mask. These masquerades, which feature ritualized dances, are celebratory reenactments of ancient battles, part real and part mythical. The Flanked figure on horseback is a potent reminder of the history of cavalry warfare on the northern edges of the Yoruba realms.
Standing Woman, modeled 1932, cast 1955–56
Gaston Lachaise (American, born France„ 1882–1935)
Even when inspired by a particular individual, representations of the human body can acquire universal meanings. Here, Standing Woman suggests an essential female force and vitality. Beginning in 1912, Gaston Lachaise began modeling standing figures inspired by his voluptuous American lover (and wife by 1917), Isabel Nagle.
Indicative of its greater significance, simply as “Woman.” Owing to its celebration of female physical abundance, critics attributed to this work and others like it a timelessness and a kinship with prehistoric representations of fertility.
Nick Cave (American, born 1959)
Dogwood twigs, wire, upholstery, basket, mannequin
Girl in a Japanese Costume, circa 1890
William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916
Oil on canvas
Gift of Isabella S. Kurtz in memory of Charles M. Kurtz,
More than records of an individual likeness or a personality, portraits can be windows onto cultural trends or preoccupations. Chase’s portrait of a young woman dressed in a kimono reflects the growing late nineteenth-century American interest in Asian arts and crafts. Japanese objects, increasingly accessible after the open of trade with Japan in the 1860s, were particularly favored. The “Japanese taste” underpinned the style of the British Aesthetic Movement by the 1870s and its American successor.