Bedu Masquerade

posted in: Brighton Museum, Collections, World Art | 0

Bedu is a plank mask (between 0.5 and 2.5 m in length), a unique regional creation used throughout the Bondoukou region of Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. In its different forms, Bedu reflects the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the region. Local communities have individualised Bedu and incorporated the masquerade in their own ritual calendar.

Bedu appears at festivities in Tambi, Côte d'Ivoire 1995 © Karel Arnaut
Bedu appears at festivities in Tambi,
Côte d’Ivoire 1995 © Karel Arnaut

Bedu generally appears once a year for between a week and a month, at the New Year festivities. These celebrate the renewal of the natural and the social order.  Bedu embodies this transition because it is itself seen as a product of transfer. The mask is seen as the reproduction (‘domestication’) of the Bedu wild animal that lives in the bush. Sculpting transforms Bedu into a domesticated animal while painting Bedu invests it with authority.

At the New Year feast Bedu appears in two types of performance:  Zorogo which parody and question the certainties of everyday life and classic Bedu performances which dramatise and reaffirm the social order. Throughout these performances the different groups make Bedu into an ally, an object of mockery or a divine creature. By incorporating these different identities Bedu emerges as an arbitrator between men and women, a cultural ambassador for the village and an advocate of consideration for children.

Pre-election party meeting, the president-elect portrait is held between two Bedu masks, Côte d'Ivoire 1995 © Karel Arnaut
Pre-election party meeting, the president-elect portrait is held between two Bedu masks, Côte d’Ivoire 1995 © Karel Arnau

Today Bedu remains the focal point of important festivities and continues to mobilise its community to debate and deliberate basic social and political issues.

Unlike the real Bedu mask which is conceived as a reproduction (‘domestication’) of the original (‘wild’) Bedu, tourist and miniature Bedu masks are seen as mere copies of these reproductions.

Miniature Bedu masks are ordered by local people who keep them as souvenirs of the real Bedu of their village. Tourist Bedus have gained popularity among collectors since the 1960s.

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