Clouds, Silver Linings, and the Kongoli.

One of the benefits of Collecting Tribal African Art is simply gaining exposure to the diversity of cultural knowledge associated with the tribes, and masks.

The day did not begin well. Today (01/12/14) marked the second consecutive auction where I missed placing a bid on a mask that seemed interesting. It was advertised as a Kongoli from the Mende culture in Sierra Leone – I had never come across this type of mask (or so I thought), but accessing the auction mere minutes after the mask was sold seemed unbelievably unlucky. In an auction in December I missed an Igala mask (gutting) because I fell asleep after shoveling snow. So, on the bright side I decided to read up on the Kongoli mask, and I’m sure glad I did. Apart from being a funny mask, from a tribe with a great masking tradition, I realized I actually had one in my collection. It had been mis-categorized as belonging to the Bamum tribe, from the Cameroon.

Kongoli (previously attributed to Bamum)

Kongoli (previously attributed to Bamum)

Cue the silver lining. It absolutely turned my day around, but there’s another side to this that blew me away. Modern society is becoming increasingly paralyzed by political correctness. The Kongoli is in truth and fact “the village clown”, and as the following video demonstrates sometimes entertainment is simply entertaining.

The short video documentary below, by Bill Hart (University of Ulster), examines the role of the Kongoli/Gongoli mask in Sierra Leone culture. The first 22 secs are classic





Gongoli Description (from the Yale University Art Gallery eCatalogue)

Kongoli (Gongoli) Mask [E1]

Kongoli (Gongoli) Mask [E1]


“Ugly! This is the reaction that the Mende audience has when seeing this mask in performance. The uglier, the better. The function of the Gongoli performance is to show the worst side of human nature: deformed, disheveled, chaotic, undisciplined, deceptive, and antisocial. The mask is worn with a hideous costume of dead leaves and rags. The movements of the performer are disjointed, erratic, awkward?and amusing. Gongoli masks are usually owned by private individuals and may appear at any celebration.”


[E1] Photo Credit to Yale University Art Gallery eCatalogue
http://ecatalogue.art.yale.edu/detail.htm?objectId=84527

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