Ceremonial drum, ca. 100 BCE, Peru, Nasca. Terracotta, polychrome slip. Gift of Fred Olsen and the Art Acquisition Fund 1967-29-110
Ceremonial drum, ca. 100 BCE, Peru, Nasca. Terracotta, polychrome slip. Gift of Fred Olsen and the Art Acquisition Fund 1967-29-110
Nasca, Peru
ca. 100 BCE

18 3/4 x 15 inches in diameter

In ancient Peru, it was believed that the sound of flutes, songs, and drums drew the attention of the gods. Special ceremonial drums played a key role in the success of religious events among the Nasca people of the South Coast. This drum would originally have had a membrane stretched across its open end and, it seems, would have been played while being carried under the arm. Such easy portability would make the drum an ideal instrument for use during active ceremonial processions at sites like Cahuachi, the major site and capital of early Nasca culture, or out on the flat pampas, or lowlands, where the famous Nasca geoglyphs are located.

This ceremonial drum is decorated with a heavy layer of polychrome slip, or watered-down clay, and was originally burnished to a high sheen. The design is a pattern of white-collared swifts, migratory birds associated with the annual growing cycle. Agriculture in the arid Nasca region was crucially dependent on water flowing from the highlands during the rainy season. The appearance of the swifts heralded the coming of the growing season. Thus, their image on a ceremonial drum of this type is undoubtedly significant, suggesting the natural associations the drum may have had and the kind of ceremonies for which it may have been used.

Apart from its intrinsic value as a work of art, this drum is interesting for its unusual conservation history. At some point prior to its acquisition by Krannert Art Museum, the drum was broken and heavily restored. When layers of color began to separate from its surface, University of Illinois scholars, scientists, and conservators conducted extensive analyses to discover the extent of the reconstruction and to reverse its unnatural effects. The results of their work yield a more accurate view of how the artwork originally looked.

Text by Margaret A. Jackson, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008


Autumn Knight: In Rehearsal

Autumn Knight makes performances that reshape perceptions of race, gender, and authority in institutional spaces. Drawing from such disparate fields as dance, psychology, religious studies, and theatre, Knight pays attention to the ways knowledge is produced collectively among her audience members and physically in the body through language, movement, and emotion.


"Singer" dance mask, early 20th century Ivory Coast (We) Wood, bells, fiber, chalk 11 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches Gift of Richard J. Faletti Family Collection 2000-5-1
"Singer" dance mask, early 20th century. Ivory Coast (We); Wood, bells, fiber, chalk. 11 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches, Gift of Richard J. Faletti Family Collection 2000-5-1
Ivory Coast (We)
20th Century

Wood, bells, fiber, chalk

11.75 x 9.5 in.

Gift of Richard J. Faletti Family Collection


Throughout the cultural regions of Liberia and the Ivory Coast, where the We language is spoken, face masquerades have played a central role in all areas of life and government.

Masks with slit, elliptical eyes painted over in white are considered "female," while those with round or projecting tubular eyes are "male." The white paint symbolizes the kaolin that is often used to decorate young girls' eyes as they go through initiation practices. Kaolin used to be a part of a daily cosmetic routine in We-speaking cultures, and signifies both beauty and an absence of hostility. The vertical ridge on the forehead of this mask is an ethnic marker of northern We cultures, while the semi-circular relief that links the nostrils to the temples is a scarification pattern specific to We women.

The brass bells on this We mask, together with the generic female features, mark it as either a "singer" or a griot ("poet and musician") mask. The purpose and visual character of a We mask can change over time. It is the headdress and other attachments that establish a mask's particular character and its position in the masquerade hierarchy. The more important the spirit mask, the more elaborate the crowning and framing of the "face" with natural and fabricated materials. A We mask with generic female features such as this may begin life as a low-ranking "beggar" dance masquerade used strictly for entertainment, to earn money for its owner's family by its antics, and to sing the praises of notables. The same carved mask can move up in the hierarchy through successive transformations of form and repeated performance, evolving into a "singer" or, in some cases, into a "griot" masquerade. Such masks are sacred keepers of We history and cultural traditions. 

Each "singer" masquerade has a "life history." Passed down from one generation to another within a family lineage, a "singer" builds its language skills and repertory of texts as it increases in age, reputation, and sanctity. Very old "singer" masks are venerated as the "mothers" of younger "singer" masks.

Text by Anita J. Glaze, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008