OBJECT history formal equilibrium, for which the round anthropomorphic face is the central axis. Examples of formal adaptation in the service of sculptural requirements are certainly known from other cultures. Boas (reprint 2003: 249), for instance, discusses how the representation of the killer whale (Orcinus orca) in Tlingit culture was altered in order to accommodate its functional purpose as a club. The orca’s dorsal fin is necessarily present, since it is the object’s main sculptural symbol, but if it were rendered as observed in nature (and also as it generally is in Tlingit and Haida art), it would interfere with the object’s use as a club. For the sake of the object’s utility, the artist folded the fin and tail inward on the marine animal he carved (fig. 16). It is not unreasonable to imagine that a similar aesthetic 132 consideration was in play for the Tervuren mask. Such an adaptation of buffalo horns on a human face can be observed in other artistic representations. Coming back to the coiffure drawn by Burton (fig. 7), we see that this formal adaptation was both known and recognized, since it is mentioned in the object’s original description: “The minkatanga head-dress once worn by Kabongo’s headmen around Lake Boya is supposed to resemble the horns of a buffalo.” The drawing in fig. 7 shows that the buffalo coif is not rendered in a wide horizontal plane, but is rather well structured around the roundness of the face. All of these different factors suggest that we should consider the hypothesis that the horns on the mask represent those of a buffalo as the more viable one. Having arrived at this stage of the discussion, we now return our attention to an element mentioned at the beginning of the article, which has not been forgotten: the bird. Although damaged, this animal can still reveal certain things. First, it can be seen that the bird was originally attached to the mask in three different places—by each foot and by the beak (fig. 13). Given its placement between two protuberances that evoke the horns, one can imagine that our bird is a gourmet of the kind that rides on certain mammals and feeds on the parasites it finds on them. To identify the bird more clearly, we can refer to an anatomical detail on it that fortunately has survived: its long neck. The fact that the sculptor chose to give the bird a serpentine neck, a choice that was risky in that it makes the entire sculpture more fragile, underscores the importance of this detail. Thus the chances are good that the neck is the bird’s primary sculptural symbol. A species that could be a candidate for the bird’s identity based on its sculptural details also occurs in the geographical location we are dealing with: the cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis). Cattle egrets are often found in the proximity of large mammals, feeding on the ground off the small prey that live on them and are thrown off involuntarily by the larger creatures’ movements. It may also eat certain parasites such as flies and ticks while actually perched on the large animals but, unlike the oxpecker,6 it rarely does. While the cattle egret does sometimes choose to nourish itself alongside domesticated animals such as sheep, cattle, or horses, in areas such as central Africa where there is little animal husbandry (which it is reasonable to assume was the case in nineteenth-century Katanga), the bird prefers the company of wild animals like the buffalo. All of this leads us to believe that the presence of a representation of Bubulcus ibis on the mask lends additional support to the buffalo horn hypothesis. The presence of a bird perched between two horns also doesn’t really have a place in the realm of zoomorphic coiffures. Unless one day a legend of a Luba Zeuxis comes to light—that is, of an artist so gifted in the realistic rendering of “braid-horns” that they attract birds to sit on them—one can safely assert that the Tervuren mask represents a human head framed by buffalo horns, accompanied by a cattle egret. As we have not touched upon the function of the mask in question, some readers may feel disappointed by this study and ask themselves why it was necessary to devote so many pages to arriving at a conclusion that appears quite simple, while leaving other questions unanswered. But our purpose here is to show that when This study was initially prepared for presentation at the BRAFA Art Talks of January 29, 2014, and was intended as a general introduction to the analytical methodology used to examine an African artwork about which little ethnographic information is available. For more about this conference, which was organized by BRAFA and BIAPAL, in collaboration with this magazine, please visit our website, www.tribalartmagazine.com, as well as those of our partners: www.brafa.be and www.biapal.be.
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