African Art

Mask (Kponyugu)

late 19th–early 20th century

Wood, pigment, and metal

12 13/16 × 13 3/8 × 34 1/4 in. (32.5 × 34 × 87 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
The Kponyugu performer appears in ritual of the Poro association, especially at funerals. This mask is in the form of an animal head with large open mouth and spiked teeth, the flat horns of the buffalo, the huge jaw of the crocodile or warthog, the ears of the hyena, and, on top of the head, a chameleon. Each of these animals plays a role in the Senufo stories of the creation of the world. The owner of the mask may use it in conducting an initiation of elder men into the senior level. The masked dancers also may perform at the funeral of deceased male and female Poro members. As a corpse lies in the central plaza, wrapped in cloths, the masked dancers place their heavy double-faced drums directly on the torso of the cadaver lengthwise and beat their rhythms on the side of the drum facing the feet. This ritual is said to ensure that the “shadow” does not leave the body of the deceased through the head and that it finds the correct way to the village of the dead.
Burkina Faso
or geography Mali
or geography Côte d’Ivoire
Senufo, Pòrò association
19th–20th century

Alan Brandt, New York. Philip Sanfield, Farmington Hills, Michigan. Michael Oliver, New York, to July 13, 1984; Charles B. Benenson Collection, Greenwich, Conn, 1984–2004; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Frederick John Lamp, “Charles Benenson and His Legacy of African Art to Yale,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2004): 37, ill.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 118–119, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.