Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Headdress

Date:
19th–20th century
Geography:
Nigeria, Lower Cross River region
Culture:
Ejagham peoples
Medium:
Wood, leather, pigment, kaolin, cane, vegetable fiber
Dimensions:
H. 16 1/2 x W. 5 3/4 x D. 7 13/16 in. (41.9 x 14.6 x 19.8 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Morton D. May Gift, by exchange, 1969
Accession Number:
1978.412.607
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
In the southeastern forest region of Nigeria, village groupings are small and politically decentralized. There, some cults have crossed ethnic boundaries and have been adopted by peoples of many groups living over a wide area. Among those regionally shared artistic traditions is a complex of masks depicting beautiful women with elegant coiffures and white faces.

Headdresses covered with leather are made by many different peoples living in villages scattered along the Cross River and in Cameroon. These exceptional headdresses are owned by associations for entertainment and mutual assistance. Membership in the associations is limited to those of the same sex and the same age and is often further confined to those who have performed certain feats or are proficient in particular skills.

The headdresses, which bear the same name as the society that owns them, are worn during funerals and initiations. Some are startlingly naturalistic and may be portraits of known individuals; others are highly stylized. To make a headdress, the artist carves the form from a single piece of wood and covers it with soft un-tanned antelope skin that has been soaked in water for several days. He stretches, binds, and pegs the skin into place until it dries and stiffens. Eyes, scarifications, and hair are often carved separately and pegged into the finished piece. Before it is worn, the headdress is painted or colored, then adorned with porcupine quills, feathers, or feathered rods stuck into holes at the top.
[Edward Klejman, Paris, until 1969]; Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978

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