The most important of the Baga art forms is the great mask, D’mba or Nimba
It represents the mother of fertility, protector of pregnant women, and presides over all
agricultural ceremonies. The dancer, wearing a full raffia costume, carries the mask on his
shoulders, looking out through holes between the breasts. In use, such masks rise more
than eight feet above the ground; they often weigh more than eighty pounds. Most show a
standardized pattern of facial scarification.
“Nimba is the joy of living; it is the promise of the abundant harvest”
The Baga Nimba, or D’mba, represents the abstraction of an idea of the female role in
society. The Nimba is essentially viewed as the vision of woman at her zenith of power,
beauty, and affective presence; rather than a goddess or spirit. The typical Nimba form
illustrates a woman that has been fertile, given birth to several children, and nurtured
them to adulthood.
Typically, the Baga Nimba’s hair is braided into parallel rows (represented by the
scarification on the head) which are similar to the patterns of agriculture grown in West
African fields. The face, and breasts of the Baga Nimba are decorated with scarification,
which embodies the ability of the Baga Nimba to alter its condition to the natural
environment. Nimba’s presence is exemplified in all aspects if Baga life for she is present
publicly at weddings to give direction to the new union; at funerals to initiate the dead;
harvest to celebrate productivity; and planting to inspire her people to continue to
complete difficult tasks. Ultimately, Nimba is a reminder of the revered qualities which
make up the Baga social system.
In their original context, a male figure like this would have been paired with a female figure and possibly placed in a shrine to ensure
agricultural and human fertility. Both male and female figures are called D’mba, which refers to an ideal state of womanhood and
motherhood among the Baga. The hairstyle and facial patterns are typical of the neighboring Fulbe women, who are considered
extremely beautiful throughout West Africa. D’mba may represent ideals of human behavior and beauty that cross gender and ethnic
boundaries. Although the D’mba masquerade is always female, male and female D’mba figures exist, suggesting that the ideal that
D’mba represents crosses gender lines.
Baga figures of this type, which can be either male or female, represent deities that had potentially both – good and evil influence – on
the life of the community. They were kept in shrines outside the villages and were associated with plant and human fertility. The
sculptures themselves did not serve as abodes for spirits, but rather as intermediaries between them and the people. Offerings were left
for the spirits at the shrines, and the figures were greatly respected in the hope that they might bring good fortune and benefits from the
Nimba masks are now sold and auctioned around the world, for thousands of dollars due to the delicacy needed when being transported. They are a part of numerous art museum’s showings and permanent collections and personal collectors. In 2019 the Art Institute of Chicago opened a newly renovated African Art exhibit including a D’mba mask. Some critics say that after traveling to Africa artist Pablo Picasso drew inspiration from the D’mba mask in some of his sculptures. Much was to be learned about this art of the Baga people in the western world and after Frederick Lamps publication of Art of the Baga People 1996 progression was made.