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Early 20th C. Nigeria Ijo Wood Zoomorphic Headdress

West Africa, Nigeria, Ijo peoples, early 20th century CE. A wood headdress carved to look like the agira, the aquatic antelope. Wide, round, bulging eyes adorn the sides of the head; twin horns jut out from above them, the round holes behind them representing ears. The mouth is open, with twin rows of square teeth below flaring red-painted nostrils. White (kaolin) pigment accentuates the eyes and white diagonal lines decorate the snout. Size: 13.25" L x 8.6" W x 7.4" H (33.7 cm x 21.8 cm x 18.8 cm)

This mask was designed to be worn atop the head, and the cloth nailed to the base of the mask hangs down to conceal the face. The metal bolt on the underside of the mask may have been intended for attaching a pole or extension.

The Ijo peoples live in the coastal Niger Delta, where ingenuity is celebrated in the depiction of water spirits. Headdresses like this one are inspired by the water-dwelling animals who live in the rich marshland of the Delta, like crocodiles, water birds, and the agira. A similar example is held by the Art Institute of Chicago (2000.320.1).

Condition: Both horns broken near the head with losses as shown. Several lower teeth missing. The cloth around the base shows expected age wear.

Provenance: Ex-Adeon Gallery, Chicago, IL, acquired prior to 1970.

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