Headdress Mask (Chi Wara)
This Chi Wara headdress was made by an artist of the Bamana people from Mail. In their traditions, Chi Wara is the deity responsible for introducing the Bamana to agriculture. The mythical being is honored with dances and contests during planting and harvesting times, and represented by these headdresses. Chi Wara was thought to be part human and part animal, so the headdresses are carved with abstracted features referencing animals such as the antelope, as seen here in the object’s elongated head and horns. The zigzagging, geometric design on the neck might also signify the radiance of the sun. There are two versions of these headdresses, as the two sides of agricultural fertility: the female, depicting a baby on a mother’s back, and the male, which is shown here. The male and female are brought together in performance by a pair of men wearing the two headdresses, which are attached to long raffia fibers that sway as the dancers move, imitating the antelope. European artists of the 20th century were particularly enamored with these objects, finding inspiration in their design and abstract compositions.