Revealed: Ancient traditional mask from Plateau among 300,000 artefacts in Chicago museum

The mask, likely 200yrs old was discovered in Sha Village of Plateau State in Central Nigeria.

A 64.8 cm traditional mask from Central Nigeria’s Plateau State has been found in the Art Institute of Chicago, USA, one of the world’s major museums, housing an extraordinary collection of objects from across places, cultures, and time.

The strikingly abstract mask, in gallery 137 in the Museum’s “arts of Africa” was once covered with potent red abrus seeds that were held in place by a resin paste, the Institute’s website says. “It would have been used in initiation rituals for one of six age-grade associations,” it says.

Among the Sha people of Bokkos Local Government Area, the mask, according to the AIC description represents a male spirit called Akirang who had a female counterpart named Aja. The Kulere equivalent of Akirang was Asho, a spirit associated with human and agricultural fertility, the website says.

The mask believed to have been designed between 1867 and 1900, confirms the existence of civilization in present day Central Nigeria long before the arrival of Western education. A monument of similar age – a pedestrian bridge believe to have been built since the 1800s exists in Butura Wur, a Ron native Community located 40miles South of Jos, the capital of Plateau State.

The State is celebrated as “The Home of Peace and Tourism” with over 50 native groups and natural formations of rocks, hills and waterfalls, but however has very little of its documented history. The Chicago Arts Institute is perhaps one of few foreign banks of art preserving such records, with researchers and tourists from Nigeria likely visiting.

Founded in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the world’s most treasured places of active learning—dedicated to investigation, innovation, education, and dialogue. The museum houses a permanent collection of approximately 300,000 works of art—ranging from ancient art through work by today’s foremost artists.

Amplifying the vitality and excellence of its collection is the presentation of more than 30 special exhibitions annually. Its exhibitions, renowned for groundbreaking scholarship and popular appeal, highlight voices and traditions from across the globe as well as the unique visions and histories that make Chicago such a compelling and complex city. These exhibitions are joined by hundreds of gallery talks, lectures, performances, workshops, and conversations that further activate our spaces and promote broad participation.

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