Wood, pigment, cowerie shells, seeds, latex, metal
H. 29 x W. 8 1/4 x D. 8 1/4 in. (73.7 x 21 x 21 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 350
In consultation with Robert Goldwater, then director of New York’s now-defunct Museum of Primitive Art (MPA), Nelson A. Rockefeller and the MPA acquired several Ntomo association face masks that now are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. Goldwater included some of the masks in the MPA’s 1960 landmark exhibition of Bamana art. In the exhibition’s accompanying publication, Goldwater describes Ntomo face masks as "among the most interesting of the Bambara [or Bamana] masks." He recognizes formal variety in the carving of Ntomo face masks, but he also specifies that an "oval shaped human face surmounted by a high comb of vertical spikes or horns" distinguishes Ntomo face masks from other types of face masks.
Ntomo is one of many associations historically found in communities identified as Bamana, and its membership has usually consisted of young boys in the process of learning adult responsibilities. Not every Bamana community has always maintained or continues to maintain an Ntomo association, so the phenomenon is neither universal nor timeless (Colleyn 2009: 28). Reasons for staging an Ntomo performance have also varied, and performances have occurred at popular gatherings and other important events (Colleyn 2009: 28). Observers also report that Ntomo performers wear full-body masks, each consisting of a wooden face mask and cloth outfit.
The sculptor of this face mask created an abstracted human-like face distinguished by its ovoid forehead, angular nose, and pointed chin. The roundness of the eyeholes contrast with the rectangular eyebrows above them. The straightness of the six vertical spikes rising from the head differ from the curving neck and angular head of the antelope form in front of them. Small strips of metal attached to the antelope head and neck suggest someone repaired the object before Nelson A. Rockefeller purchased the mask from Paris-based art dealer Henri Kamer in November 1959. Kamer lists the mask as a "Bambara dance mask" on his November 2, 1959 invoice. The Museum of Primitive Art identified the mask as an Ntomo mask and placed it in the center of a display of seven distinct Ntomo masks in its 1960 exhibition "Antelopes and Queens: Bambara Sculpture from the Western Sudan."
Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi, Assistant Professor of Art History, Emory University, 2016