X81.1705 Costume

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John Bidjogo Island, Guinea-Bissau
Bidjogo or Woon peoples
Wood, rope, pigment
Early 20th century
L: 45.8 cm, W: 78.7 cm (L: 18.0 in, W: 30.9 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Promised Gift of the Rogers Family Foundation. X81.1705


Other examples of arts depicting contact between and hybridization of humans and aquatic creatures abound at different time periods and in different regions. A vividly painted, early twentieth-century wood sculpture in the form of a shark’s fin depicts humans in low relief swimming together with sea life. This carving was made by the Bidjogo peoples who live on the Bissagos Islands off the coast of Guinea and create lively masquerade headdresses portraying a variety of sea creatures. The sea and its denizens (both real and spiritual) shape the lives of the Bidjogo, informing their folklore, age-grade ceremonies, and arts. Young boys wear headdresses representing nonthreatening fish and turtles, but when they have passed this first age-grade stage and become warriors, they don masks of dangerous and aggressive water creatures – hippopotami, swordfish, crocodiles, and sharks.

Source: Drewal, Henry John. (2008) “Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 28-29