Baga Nimba mask or D'mba from Guinea

What is the purpose of the Baga Nimba mask?
This ritual mask represents the embodiment of the ideal fertile woman. It is therefore not seen as a fertility “spirit”, but as an idea of ​​the woman and the ideal image of her role in the Baga community: a mother figure. In its original ritual context, the mask was used in a ceremonial dance during harvest and symbolizes fertility and life. Today, the Nimba can be found in museums, such as the Louvre (Paris) and the Metropolitan Museum (New York), where they are especially appreciated for their aesthetic qualities. Picasso also owned a Nimba in the 1920s. (1)

What do they look like?
A Baga Nimba mask is a large, wooden shoulder mask (120-130 cm) decorated with plant fibers and pigments. The plant fibers are placed so that they cover the wearer of the mask. The Nimba's ears are often U-shaped (on its side). The face and breasts of the mask usually show scar patterns. Imagine how heavy it is to carry such a wooden mask on your shoulders. Sometimes they weigh up to 60 kilograms! (2)

Béatrice Appia-Blacher, Musée du Quai Branly
Ceremony with Nimba in 1938 (Source: Béatrice Appia-Blacher, Musée du Quai Branly).

The Baga Nimbas at Rootz Gallery
A Nimba is usually seen as a shoulder mask, but sometimes also as a stand-alone statue. At Rootz Gallery we have both versions! The shoulder mask is a female version (recognizable by the breasts) and the standing mask is a male version (recognizable by the phallus). Man and woman were often (when not used in ritual) placed side by side in a place of worship.

1. William Rubin, “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984), 325-326.
2. For more information, see: Iris Hahner, Maria Kecskési and László Vajda, African Masks: The Barbier-Mueller Collection (Munich: Prestel Publishing, 2010).

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