Pair of Headdresses (Ci Wara Kunw)

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Bamana
Baninko region, Mali

Pair of Headdresses (Ci Wara Kunw), Mid-19th/early 20th century

Wood, metal, brass tacks, and grasses
left: 98.4 x 40.9 x 10.8 cm (38 3/4 x 16 1/8 x 4 1/4 in.); right: 79.4 x 31.8 x 7.6 cm (31 1/4 x 12 1/2 x 3 in.)
Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment, 1965.6-7

Among the Bamana of central Mali, farming is an ancient and noble profession that is entwined with religious beliefs and ritual practices. The invention of agriculture is credited to a mythical hero named Ci Wara, literally “farming animal,” who was half human and half beast. A Bamana men’s association named for Ci Wara is dedicated to the practical aspects of farming and the social and ritual structures that support it. Among its activities, the association sponsors masquerade performances that take place as farmers work together in communal fields. The performances encourage the farmers as they labor, inspiring them to work even harder while also celebrating their agrarian heritage.

These Ci Wara headdresses combine the graceful head, neck, and horns of the antelope with the short legs, compact body, and tough, pointed nose (used to dig into hard, dry ground) of the pangolin. Viewed from the side, the figures’ silhouettes are enlivened by the articulation of positive and negative space. Such headdresses are performed in male and female pairs, though few pairs remain united in museum collections today, making this outstanding twosome all the more remarkable. The female carries a spry young male on her back, suggesting the fertile union of men and women and of earth, water, seeds, and sun.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2009, p. 14.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Washington, D.C., National Museum of African Art, African Art in the Cycle of Life, June 2, 1987–January 10, 1988.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Genesis: Origins in African Sculpture, November 19, 2002–April 12, 2003, cat. pp. 12–24, 79–82.

Publication History

Richard F. Townsend and Kathleen Bickford Berzock, “The Art Institute of Chicago New Galleries,” in Tribal Arts XVI-1/62 (Winter 2011), p. 67, figure 19 (ill.).

Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago Annual Report 1964–1965 (Art Institute Chicago, 1965), p. 41.

Art Institute of Chicago, The Quarterly of the Art Institute of Chicago 28 (1965), p. 111, pl. 3 (ill.).

African Arts, African Arts 3, 1 (1970), pp. cover, 14–15.

Duane Preble and Sarah Preble, Artforms: An Introduction to the Visual Arts, third ed. (Prentice Hall, 1985), p. 265, fig. 303 (ill.).

Richard F. Townsend, African Sculpture: The Art Institute of Chicago [In-Gallery Guide] (Art Institute of Chicago, 1985).

Roy Seiber and Roslyn Adele Walker, African Art in the Cycle of Life, exh. cat. (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987), object 22.

Kathleen E. Bickford and Cherise Smith, "Art of the Western Sudan," African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 23, 2 (1997), pp. 113, pl. 6 (ill.).

Kathleen Bickford Berzock, "African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago," African Arts Magazine 32, 4 (Winter 1999), pp. cover, 2, 19 (ill.).

Alisa LaGamma, Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture, exh. cat. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002), pp. 12–24, 79–82.

Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide, revised ed. (Art Institute of Chicago, 2003), p. 21 (ill.).

Thomas Buser, Experiencing Art Around Us (Wadsworth Publishing, 2006).

Art Institute of Chicago, Postcard. (Art Institute of Chicago Junior Museum, n.d.).

Sujatha Meegama, Gods and Heroes from Around the World [Family Self-Guide] (Art Institute of Chicago, n.d.), p.2.

Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago The Essential Guide (Art Institute of Chicago, 2009), p. 14 (ill.).

Ownership History

Unknown African dealer [personal communication from Hélène Kamer Leloup, Oct. 1982, documentation in curatorial file]; sold to Henri Kamer (died 1992) and Hélène Kamer, Kamer Inc., Paris, France, by 1965; sold to the Art Institute, 1965.