Masks and Carving
Masks and Carving
The Unmasked: Spirit in the City exhibition features the new display of an Agaba mask carved by Tonye Agala.
A short film in the exhibition Unmasked: Spirit in the City documents the carving of an Agaba mask by Tonye Agala, filmed in April 2018. This short film includes the performance of mask libation songs by Elder Tamuno Amboy Amabeoku and Lucia Lucky George, in the Igbo language, with subtitles in English explaining the mask making process depicted.
The captions are included as text below with some stills from the film.
Tonye is self-taught and makes copies of Italian designer furniture between mask commissions. His other recent commissions at the time of this film included for Chief Ateke Tom, who is a former militia leader and is now a traditional chief and patron of the arts.
The mask is carved from agwu or golden wood (Alstonia boonei). Logs are floated along the creeks of the Niger Delta to Port Harcourt, where they are cut and processed at Timber Market. Golden wood is valued for mask carving because it is soft to work, and the masks are light once they have dried out.
This mask was inspired by an initial design sketched by the carver. Details were borrowed from older masks including the facial features from this old mask. Ideas were also drawn from photographs of other Agaba performances. Some details, like the pair of boxers who appear on the back of the mask, were improvised and inspired by images in newspapers.
The elder of the mask, Amboy Amabeoku, oversaw the mask design and production. Amboy was one of the original members of an Agaba group called '007'.
Tonye was training four apprentices during the carving, including his son. As the mask reached completion, everyone was involved in different aspects of carving, sanding, priming and painting.
This mask was made strictly to be displayed in the museum. It cannot be worn because it is too heavy, and contains no Agaba spirit.
Find more examples of Agaba masks on display in the museum's main gallery
Mgbedike means ‘time of the brave’ in the Nigerian Igbo language. It is also known as Agaba. Large horns are a common feature of the mask along with impressive teeth and figures which are attached to the top of the head. These figures are typically fierce-looking and incorporate aggressive animal and masculine characteristics. The mask is carved from light wood, but it is large and requires a strong, sturdy dancer to carry it. Their identities and reputations are ‘open secrets’. During an Agaba performance the mask is protected and empowered with eggs smashed into its forehead.
Both the masks pictured below were collected by GI Jones in Nigeria in the 1930s. They are similar to those depicted in a film by George Basden, which is on display in the Long Gallery as part of the exhibition, as well as masks described by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe.