The colonials considered this visually forceful artistic tradition and masquerade ceremony subversive. The reason why is evident.
These large scale masks requiring enormous stamina and physical strength to wear and were danced in masquerades for hours only by the strongest of young men. These feats of endurance drew an excitement and awe from the assembled throng. The anticipation of the annual spectacle, the visual splendour of the two competing masks of different gender dancing together, meant these events generally became rowdy demonstrations of identity, pride and village unity.
Conceived in the 1930s, this tradition using Bedu masks, symbolizing mythical beasts with a protective and curative function, was a relatively new phenomenon. The popularity of this masquerade spread swiftly amongst the Nafana, Degha and Kulango people of the Bondoukou region, Northern West Ghana, and Eastern Ivory Coast.
When viewed, these masks are extraordinary. Their scale harks back to the girth of the ghost trees used to make them. The masterly handling of two and three dimensions by the sculptor demonstrates not only his imagination and carving talent, but a keen sense of the visual dynamic.
From an artistic point of view, their proportion and balance is created with a skilled interplay of geometric forms, implied shapes, curvilinear lines and crisp angles. The monochrome colour and choice of geometric patterns on each mask complements the stark form.
The effect of the beauty of these abstract sculptures on laymen or art collectors alike, is profound and although the tradition of Bedu may be recent, it is a brilliant example of the continual artistic reinvention of the African art genre.