[Art Attack] History behind the African masks in Black Panther

Farida Dawkins March 01, 2018

Benin ivory mask

The Benin mask displayed in the Black Panther film is a depiction of Queen Mother Idia –monarch in the 16th century Benin empire.  The queen is revered due to her being known as “the only woman to go to war.” The sculpture of the Queen mother is shown as cool-tempered, adorned with a beaded headdress, a choker at her neck, body scarification on her forehead, an iron inlay on her head, and a tiara with a replica of beings. The mask may have been used in rituals to expel bad spirits and commemorations.  There are three versions of the masks housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum, and Linden Museum.

Benin ivory mask

In 1897 during the Benin expedition, five to six Benin masks were found in a chest in the bedchamber of the Oba Ovonramwen. The British proceeded to burn the palace and took thousands of pieces of ivory, wood, and brass from ancestral altars.  Many of the art pieces were sold to Western museums and collectors.


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