A Closer Look at Senufo in the SLAM collection

By | August 24, 2015

Senufo: Art and Identify in West Africa features nearly 170 loans from museums and private collections in Europe, Canada, and the United States. There is one work in particular that you may recognize from SLAM’s permanent collection, the “Mask for the Do Society”. To learn more about this mask, we turned to the Senufo experts, Constantine Petridis, curator of African art at the Cleveland Museum of Art and Nichole Bridges, associate curator for African art and associate curator in charge of overseeing the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Here is what they had to say:

Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa is the first major exhibition to feature SLAM’s “Mask for the Do Society.” The mask was collected in West Africa by Karl-Heinz Krieg (1934–2012), a German dealer and collector of African art who had close ties to St. Louis.

Do masquerader image

Performance of a Do masquerader wearing a female mask known locally as ciemve or domuso, in the town of Sorobango, Côte d’Ivoire, December 20, 1987. Photo: Raymond A. Silverman.

Krieg collected a number of works identified as Senufo during his annual travels to West Africa, beginning with his first visit to Ghana in 1960. Krieg’s field acquisitions resulted in a large personal collection with strong representation of arts labeled Senufo and Akan. These works are accompanied by rich documentation from Krieg’s own first-hand observations and interviews in West Africa. A number of the works that Krieg collected in West Africa are included in Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa, including several from St. Louis collections. Krieg, who visited St. Louis occasionally during the 1970s and 1980s, became closely acquainted with several local collectors of African art who acquired works from him.

Unidentified Ligbi or Jula artist; Mask for the Do Society, probably 19th century; wood, paint, palm oil, and henna; 11 7/8 x 6 x 3 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Howard F. Baer in honor of his wife, Isabel A. Baer 140:1972

Unidentified Ligbi or Jula artist; Mask for the Do Society, probably 19th century; wood, paint, palm oil, and henna; 11 7/8 x 6 x 3 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Howard F. Baer in honor of his wife, Isabel A. Baer 140:1972

SLAM’s mask, and those displayed along with it in the exhibition, typically appeared in masquerades throughout the multicultural Kong and Bondoukou regions of northeastern Côte d’Ivoire. Perceived as pure entertainment in Muslim communities, Do masquerade performances occur in the context of weddings and periods of celebration connected with the Islamic calendar, such as the conclusion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and spiritual reflection.

– Constantine Petridis and Nichole Bridges


Want to learn more about Senufo? Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Take the free multimedia tour of Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa for insightful commentary, high-resolution images, and stories about artists and patrons as you tour through the exhibition
  • Visit the engagement space within the exhibition and get a closer look at the brass figurines and personal adornments from the Museum’s collection of West African arts in metal
  • Register now for Case Studies in African Art, a multi-week class that draws on current exhibitions of African art in St. Louis, Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa at SLAM and Kota: Digital Excavations in African Art at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation. Learn more about each class and how to register here: http://pulitzerarts.org/program/case-studies-african-art
  • Sign the kids up for our Marvelous Masks or Beautiful Batik Youth Classes taking place on Sept. 5. Registration is required. Learn more here: http://www.slam.org/Education/classes.php
  • Mark your calendars for September Family Sundays: Artful Africa. Bring the whole family in to explore the continent of Africa and its artistic traditions with a kid-friendly tour of the collection exploring sculptures, masks, and textiles made in Africa and a hands-on activity to create works of art inspired what you’ve seen! Don’t miss a very Special Family Sunday Performance on Sept. 6 from Afriky Lolo – West African Dance and Drumming
  • On Thursday, September 17, join us in the Farrell Auditorium for the free lecture Beyond the Picture Frame: A Refreshed Look at Arts Identified as Senufo given by Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi, assistant professor at Emory University and curatorial advisor of Senufo: Art and Identity in Western Africa. This lecture will explore the historical foundations for the term Senufo and its use to label art from western Burkina Faso, northern Côte d’Ivoire, and southern Mali.