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Elephant Mask, Kuosi Society, Bamileke Peoples, Cameroon

Video transcript

we're in the Brooklyn Museum looking at this magnificent beaded mask this mask is covered in beads it was danced by the members of the elephant society the KU OC society in the BA Malika Kingdom of Cameroon Cameroon is a country in Central Africa but we're seeing this object hermetically sealed within Plexiglas in a museum completely divorced from the way that it would have been used and understood in its original context this was a masquerade which involved not just a mask but a costume performers musicians and attendants to bring this mask to life to do what it was really supposed to do in terms of honoring the king and bringing about social harmony so we should not be seeing it frozen hung as if it was just a piece of cloth this object was obviously collected and has now a second life in this museum space it's very hard for us to recontextualize its original use but we know from photographs that the ba Maliki society would wear these with a red feather headdress a leopard skin pelt and a full body costume the leopard and the elephant were symbols of role and powerful symbols for the font the font was a divine king who could transform into the elephant and the leopard was thought to be an animal that could transform into a human so we have that connection between divine rule and the essence of these powerful animals so the bow Mallika that would have worn this would have been court officials title holders warriors people that held themselves great power and in their association with the leopard and with the elephant would have expressed the power of the king and in a sense the political stability of that hierarchical order Baba Mallika King the fon allowed this society and only this one to dance the elephant mask and to wear leopard skin they were entrusted with these symbols of authority and power the main form in this beaded piece is the isosceles triangle which relates to the patterning on the body of the leopard highly stylized though as the entire mask is it's dazzling and it has a kind of optical quality that is full of energy and dynamism and imagine when it's worn and danced and performed it would be incredibly dynamic with all of these various materials and colors and shapes all brought together to suggest the power of that King and in Cameroon today the bomber VK still perform this ritual now annually but instead of warriors performing it these are powerful members of the society
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