Configurations of the African Mask: Forms, Functions and the Transcendental

Esekong H. Andrew


This paper discusses forms, functions and the phenomenon of the transcendental as configurations of the African mask. In the discourse, it has been argued that stylistic nuances determined by cultural beliefs of the producing community and the individual vision of the artist give rise to forms, which have variously been described as grotesque, refined, abstract and realistic. The paper insists that in appreciating the African mask, its physical properties are essential and help to a large extent to explain their meaning and significance. A relationship, therefore, exists between the exterior forms and the inner contents and meaning within a cultural context. Beyond the superficial elements, the study acknowledges the problem of apprehending the transcendental reality of African mask in the spiritual context and suggests that the cultural sources of the transcendental potentialities, being what the people hold as beliefs should engage scholars. The paper opines that it may be better to lower scientific guards and to adopt African cultural principles, values and belief systems. It is only in this intrinsic sociological context that the supernatural potentialities inherent in African masks can be appreciated. The final submission is that the phenomenal spirituality ascribed to African masks lies within a triangulated framework boarded by form, function and the performative context. To extend the relevance of masks as treasured cultural objects in an age of globalization, the paper calls for the consideration of not only the ‘scientific’, but also cultural logic to be able to appreciate the supernatural potentialities that may be inherent in African masks.


African masks; Forms; Functions; Transcendental reality

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