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Work of the Week: Helmet Mask (Lipiko)

Adding to the museum’s core collection of eastern African art, this recent acquisition is a superb example of a well-known genre of helmet mask of the Makonde people of the border region between Mozambique and Tanzania. Once owned by the famous French artist Arman (1928–2005) and featured in the legendary exhibition “Primitivism” in 20th-Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1984, the newly acquired helmet mask most likely originates from the Mozambican Makonde people. It is characterized by the realistic imitation of incised angular facial scarification marks, while its dark brown surface color suggests it represents a male character. Setting this Makonde mask apart from its handful of relatives in American art museums is the engraving in Kiswahili on its cheek that reads “Wakugonga Diteka,” a claim that memorializes the artist’s proper name: Diteka. This inscription signals that, like many other examples of traditional African art, this was not the work of an anonymous “craftsman” but rather the creation of an inventive artist who enjoyed fame in his community and was fully aware of his special talents.

See Diteka's Lipiko and other African works in Gallery 137.

Diteka. Helmet Mask (Lipiko), possibly early/mid-20th century. Makonde, northern Mozambique or southern Tanzania. Through prior bequest of Florene May Schoenborn.