Kpellie Mask

Object Title: Kpellie Mask

Materials: Wood

Country: Ivory Coast

Culture: Senufo

Date Created: 20th Century


Within the realm of traditional Senufo masking, there exists a category known by various appellations: Kodoli-yehe, Kpeli-yehe, or, in a more colloquial vein, Kpelie masks. These masks, once the exclusive purview of youthful males, may also be commissioned by the Tykpa (Tykepa) society, which serves as the female counterpart to the esoteric Poro secret society among men. The Tykpa society is primarily preoccupied with initiatory rites and funereal obsequies conducted for their senior members.

Kpeli-yehe masks, exemplified by this example, epitomize distinctive stylistic attributes. These encompass an elliptical face, demarcated by an elongated and svelte nasal ridge culminating in flaring nostrils. Slender, fissure-like ocular apertures are nestled beneath gracefully arched brows, and beneath them, meticulously incised lines delineate scarification motifs. The chin region tapers to a pointed configuration beneath square-shaped lips revealing the teeth. A diminutive protuberance descends below the lower lip, symbolizing an implement employed by women for Dental cleaning.

When worn during dance performances, the finely crafted mask is accompanied by a cloth cowl that covers the wearer’s head and shoulders. The context sometimes dictates the appearance of Kpelie masks, which have been documented with full-body costumes made of dyed grasses enveloping the wearer. To secure the cloth to the mask and ensure a snug fit, woven grasses are threaded through small holes along the mask’s edge.


Exhibition History:

In Memoriam – Bonnie Terrill Ross (1956-2022). New YorkQCC Art Gallery of CUNY, October 12, 2023, to February 16, 2024.