Horse Head Marionette
Among subsistence farming Bamana people, the powerful Kore men's agricultural society once sponsored a type of secular entertainment designed to challenge immoral village activity through satire. Costumed dancers acted out irresponsible and outrageous behavior, mocking authorities and commoners alike to counter their attacks on the social order and restore balance and decency. The costumes were frequently sexually explicit; all normally-hidden behavior was exposed to ridicule. Spectators could easily identify individuals at whom the satire was aimed and the targets would lose face or "social capital," a dangerous situation for any individual in closely-knit farming villages.
Performances featured both costumed masqueraders with wood masks and puppets manipulated from below by men hidden within a lightweight house-like structure made of a wood framework covered with cloth or matting. The marionettes in human or animal form projected from the top of the house-like structure. Humans were often complete figures, but animals, either domestic or wild, were often heads on sticks. Animals appearing in the masquerades symbolized lazy or wily characteristics.
The present horse head marionette displays characteristic attenuated Bamana forms, with long, backswept ears and thin head ending in a muzzle with an open mouth showing the tongue. Sheet brass strips decorated with zigzag designs serve as a bridle and the wood surfaces have a fine, medium-brown patina.
From the Estate of Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg
Sotheby's African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art, November 18 & 20, 2000, lot 40
Galerie Leloup, Paris
Height: 16 inches
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