African Art in the Saint Louis Art Museum

AfricanArt in the Saint Louis Art Museum

AfricanArt in the Saint Louis Art Museum

SaintLouis Art Museum is the biggest art museum in the United States. Ithas sculptures, painting, and ancient masterpieces from all over theworld. Situated at Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri, it is visitedby over half a million people annually. It has a collection of overthirty thousand artworks, which are divided into eleven categories.They include American, African, Asian, European, Islamic,Mesoamerican and American Indian, contemporary, oceanic, modern,decorative arts and design, and prints, drawings, and photographs.This essay discusses the African art, particularly the Bwa that iscommonly known as Hawk mask.

Bwais an African wooden mask art of work, carved in animal form andlooks like a hawk that represents various characters. Its stylishfeature resembles animals, insects, birds, or even human beings. Themasks are also known as duho or duba, which means hawk or vulture.The mask can present animals such as bush pig, bush buffalo,antelope, and monkey, among others. It can also presentwater-dwellers such as fish and crocodile, as well as insects such asbutterfly, grasshoppers, and spiders, among others. It alsorepresents birds such as vultures and hawks. Besides, Bwa alsorepresents several human characters such as a lazy man and leper.Other Bwa represent supernatural spirits such as bush spirits.

Thebutterflies and birds masks are the most abstract due to their boldgeometric shapes. They consist of broad and horizontal planks thatare decorated with enormous concentric patterns. For the bird masks,a large hook is used to represent the bird’s beak. On the otherhand, circles are used in butterflies mask to represent their wings.The bird masks and the butterfly masks are decorated with plainsurface and concentric circles respectively. The broad wings of abutterfly mask are decorated with eight target patterns across thewings to represent the colored wings of a butterfly. On the otherhand, the bird mask is decorated with plain white color on the wings.The performance of a bird’s hawk rotates vertically, firstclockwise, then anticlockwise around the performer’s face. On thecontrary, the butterfly mask rotates horizontally, since it is muchheavier and larger. A butterfly symbolizes the new life in the springbecause of moisture.

Thewooden masks that represent spirits such as bush spirits and takesanimal form are the most naturalistic. The most common representedanimals include buffalo, hornbill, bush pig, serpent, and antelope.Commonly, these masks are represented with a short snout, largearound eyes, and a large protuberant mouth. They are also coveredwith black, red, or white geometric patterns.

TheBwa hawk masks represent protective spirits. The Bwa society believesthat the masks have special powers, and they can penetrate throughthe hawk to obtain blessings and protection. Also, they believe thenature spirit tie their identity and well-being. Normally, a Bwaperson will have a mask sculpture in the house to symbolize thenatural spirit. Dancers who imitate the movement of the hawk commonlyuse hawk. They spin it around their faces as they swing their bodiesfrom sides to side. They dance as initiation rituals and agriculturalfestivities. The dance is as well accompanied by drum beating to makeit enjoyable. Besides, masks are also used at funeral ceremonies tohonor and escort the deceased. Further, masks are pride object in Bwasociety that represents prosperity.