Basinjom mask and gown

Photo: Paul Macapia

Basinjom mask and gown


Basinjom suddenly appears like a mystic hovercraft, to assault negative personalities. Raising the front of his gown, Basinjom is accompanied by a small orchestra and many witnesses. He stalks evil in the audience of villagers and is likely to confront a person known for extreme selfishness or deceit. He recites the misdeeds or nasty words of the person in question, demanding confessions, and publicly humiliates the guilty.

Through Basinjom, the Banyang of Nigeria and Cameroon create a way of denouncing disruptive personalities. His arsenal includes feathers from a blue war bird to signify strength. Mirrored eyes enable his vision to penetrate into the secret realms of hidden thoughts. The hide of a genet cat is stretched across the chest to act like a shield, and the snout of a crocodile leads his hunting instincts to wage his unique battle with selfish people.
Cotton cloth, wood, feathers, porcupine quills, mirrors, herbs, raffia, cowrie shells, rattle, eggshell, knife, genet cat skin, indigo dye
34 1/4 x 17 11/16 x 19 11/16 in. (87 x 45 x 50 cm)
Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company
Provenance: Mbang clan of the Banyang people in the central area of the Cross River in Cameroon; sold to Robert Farris Thompson (1932-2021), Professor Emeritus of Art History at Yale University, 1973; to Katherine White (1929-1980), Seattle, Washington (date unknown); bequeathed to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 1981
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistoryLos Angeles, California, Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, University of California, African Art in Motion: Icon and Act, Jan. 20 - Mar. 17, 1974 (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, May 5 - Sept. 22, 1974). Text by Robert Farris Thompson. No cat. no., pp. XII-XIII, 210-213, reproduced pls. 2, 253, 259.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Praise Poems: The Katherine White Collection, July 29 - Sept. 29, 1984 (Washington, D.C., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Oct. 31, 1984 - Feb. 25, 1985; Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, Apr. 6 - May 19, 1985; Fort Worth, Texas, Kimbell Art Museum, Sept. 7 - Nov. 25, 1985; Kansas City, Missouri, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Mar. 8 - Apr. 20, 1986). Text by Pamela McClusky. Cat. no. 50, pp. 110-11, reproduced.

Atlanta, Georgia, High Museum of Art, Rings: Five Passions In The Art World, July 4, 1996 - Sept. 29, 1996.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, Feb. 7 - May 19, 2002 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Oct. 2, 2004 - Jan. 2, 2005; Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum, Feb. 12 - June 19, 2005; Cincinnati, Ohio, Cincinnati Art Museum, Oct. 8, 2005 - Jan. 1, 2006; Nashville, Tennessee, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Jan. 27 - Apr. 30, 2006 [as African Art, African Voices: Long Steps Never Broke a Back]). Text by Pamela McClusky. No cat. no., pp. 214, 218-21, reproduced pl. 89.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Mood Indigo: Textiles from Around the World, Apr. 9 - Oct. 9, 2016.
Published ReferencesMcClusky, Pamela. "Art of Africa." In Selected Works, pp. 35-52. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1991; p. 51, reproduced.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM

Supported by Microsoft logo