African Art

Mask Representing a Beautiful Mother (D’mba)

late 19th–early 20th century

Wood and brass

52 × 15 3/8 × 24 3/16 in., 82.5 lb. (132.08 × 39 × 61.5 cm, 37.42 kg)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
As the idealization of mature female beauty and vitality, D’mba appears with a finely braided coiffure. Shiny brass tacks and other ornaments emphasize her brilliance as she dances in the sunlight. The dancer is a young man, chosen for his strength and agility, which are necessary for the athletic movements in the dance of this almost 83-pound mask. The wearer places his head inside the hollow shoulders of the sculpture and looks out through the two small holes between the breasts. The D’mba performance traditionally occurs at weddings (where the bride is carried on the shoulders of the bridegroom’s brother), funerals, and agricultural festivals.
Guinea Coast, Guinea
Not on view
Bulungits, Pukur, or Baga, Sitem subgroup
19th–20th century

Possibly with J.J. Klejman, New York, about 1956. Arnold Maremont, Chicago, by 1960; sold to Charles B. Benenson (1913–2004), Greenwich, Conn., June 16, 1972; bequeathed to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 2004


Primitive Art from Chicago Collections, exh. cat. (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1960), n.p., no. 102, ill.

“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): 41, 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): 37–38, 42–43, fig. 3, 9, 10.

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), 245, 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.