Benin ivory mask (Edo peoples)

Gus Casely-Hayford – ‘A Physical Essay in Power’: The striking story of a Benin ivory mask from HENI Talks on YouTube.

Cultural Historian Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford tells the remarkable story of a sixteenth century ivory mask from Benin, West Africa.

Contrary to its serene visage, Casely-Hayford explores how this finely carved artefact is a ‘physical essay in power’: a testament to subterfuge, savvy trading networks and bloodshed. Casely-Hayford also reflects on the mask’s changing status in the British Museum over the course of the past century, and how such objects – once regarded as ‘primitive’ – had a profound impact on the Western twentieth century avant-garde. With the rise of post-Colonial theory, such works in Western collections are now securing the status that their cultural significance merits.

Cite this page as: HENI Talks, "Benin ivory mask (Edo peoples)," in Smarthistory, June 17, 2018, accessed June 25, 2024,