African Art

Mask (Kakuungo)

late 19th–early 20th century

Wood, raffia, pigment, animal hair, and tortoise shell

45 1/16 × 22 × 16 in. (114.5 × 55.88 × 40.64 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
A Kakuungu mask that instills instant fear—whether seen from afar or close up—is well made according to the Suku. So it is not surprising that the yisidika, the charm specialist of the initiation camp, calls forth this mask to teach obedience and respect to initiates and to threaten those who might inflict harm on his charges. Immortalized in song for its jumping feats, the huge Kakuungu performer could leap from village to forest and travel great distances in record time. The oldest and most powerful of Suku masks, it could also be called on to cure impotence and sterility, control severe weather, or intervene in other crises.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
19th–20th century

Henri Kamer, New York; John Friede (b. 1938), New York, possibly 1970–Aug. 18, 1981; Charles B. Benenson Collection, Greenwich, Conn; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


Susan Vogel and Jerry L. Thompson, Closeup: Lessons in the Art of Seeing African Sculpture from an American Collection and the Horstmann Collection, exh. cat. (New York: Museum for African Art, 1990), 170, fig. 101.

Frank Herreman, To Cure and Protect: Sickness and Health in African Art, exh. cat. (New York: Museum for African Art, 1999), 32, no. 47, fig. 47.

Michel Leiris and Jacqueline Delange, African Art (New York: Golden Press, 1968), 346, fig. 405.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222–23, ill.

Warren M. Robbins and Nancy Ingram Nooter, African Art in American Collections (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 413, fig. 1051.

Frank Herreman, Facing the Mask (New York: Museum for African Art, 2002), 20, ill.

Frederick John Lamp, “Hot Space, Cool Space: The Reinstallation of the African Art Collection in the Louis Kahn Building at Yale University,” African Arts 40 (Summer 2007): 48–49, fig. 24.

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), 185, 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.