So’o , Hemba, Gerome, and Misdirection.

Over the years the art of misdirection has lost its sting. The bogeyman isn’t what he used to be. The deaths of young men at parties, or ceremonies, seems particularly tragic when one considers that the initial intent is usually to have fun.

  • Isayah Muller, 19, a gifted running back was stabbed and killed, just hours after his graduation in June 2011, in NY.[1]
  • Jasper Howard, 20, a UConn CB died after being stabbed at an on-campus party in October 2009.[2]
  • The son of Maurice Bishop, Vladimir Lenin Creft was born December 1978 and died July/August 1994. He was stabbed in a nightclub in Toronto at age 16.[3]

The Duel After the Masquerade - Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904)

Gerome’s “Duel after the Masquerade” has a simple message – “when young men get into a fight after a dance someone is likely to get hurt”.[4]

Hemba Mask - So'o

The Hemba use the So’o (known as a monkey mask) in a process of reinforcement through skits to encourage quick action when confronted by danger or the unknown. This is a classic example of African Tribal Art being put to use within the community in a non-religous context. The important point however is the conveyance of the lesson rather than the medium, (when collecting tribal african art it is usually a good idea to source the use of the mask).

“Women and the young, especially girls, are admonished not to travel through dense forest without males, and preferably adult male relatives, as support.”

“Psychological misdirection, is standard in Hemba child training and people management. The real reason for avoidance is not explained, and instead attention is directed to a more frightening and obeyable substitute. Otherwise, those being instructed might not have the experience and practical knowledge to follow the rule as scrupulously as required. This technique works both for truly life-threatening situations and for more mundane everyday interaction. “[5]

If a picture says a thousand words, the masterpiece by Gerome is the one every mother should share with their son. There are points for also knowing the difference between a “Mona Lisa” and “The Starry Night”, but only one of these paintings may actually give one pause, and save a life.


[4] Seminars in Art, Portfolio 2, J. Canaday

[5] So’o Masks and Hemba Funerary Festival

Thomas D. Blakely and Pamela A. R. Blakely

African Arts

Vol. 21, No. 1 (Nov., 1987), pp. 30-37+84-86

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