TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

GURO (also see related Yaure and Baule)

With a population of 200,000 the Guro live west of the Baule on the Côte d’Ivoire, in a heterogeneous area of free-filled savannas and dense tropical forest. Originally they were called Kweni, but they were violently colonized between 1906 and 1912 and were given the Baule name Guro by the invading French colonials. The Guro farm predominantly cotton, rice, coffee and cocoa – the men clear the field and the women plant. The daily life of the Guro is dominated by secret societies and by a belief in protective spirits, to whom the Guro used to build shrines and figures. Village life is regulated by a council of elders, representing each main family, and by secret societies. The art of the Guro is distinguished by extreme refinement. The Baule and Guro styles are difficult to separate. The Guro style, however, has one or two distinguishing marks: the face of the human mask is usually longish while the forehead and bridge of the nose form an elegant S-shaped profile. The tattoo pattern cut in relief on forehead and cheeks is a repetition of the short protruding tattoo marks on the men’s faces, and another characteristic of many Guro masks is the broad, wooden collar that serves as a fixture for the raffia cloak. There are polychrome, as well as black and brown polished masks. There is a much stronger tendency than with the Baule to add animal features to the human face – elephant’s ears, or a superstructure in the shape of a cockerel’s or other bird’s head. The hairdo is often carved in elaborate geometrical patterns, surmounted by horns or a totem animal. In some the nose forms an animal-like beak. Rather well known is the zamble mask combining the features of hyena, crocodile (or leopard) and antelope. Most of them are polychrome. There are also human masks with long horns and a superstructure in the form of one or two human figures. The masks are supplemented by voluminous, multipartite costumes of palm-frond strips or reed-grass, which completely conceal the dancer’s body. At ceremonies the Je animal masks are the first to appear, and they prepare the audience for the performance of the more powerful, anthropomorphic figures.

Guro artists also carved figures, which appear either during entertainment festivals on the head of a dancer, or are kept in houses and employed as divination figures. These standing figures are carved with their hands on their hips and have a columnar neck supporting a head with similar features to the face masks. Their beautiful weaving-loom pulleys are surmounted with heads, often female, of great elegance, embodying the protective spirit of labor.

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