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'1A Physical Essay in Power': The Striking Story of an Ivory Mask from Benin

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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.

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British historian Gus Casely-Hayford writes, lectures and broadcasts widely on African culture. He is a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and a member of its Centre of African Studies Council. He also sits on the Board of the Caine Prize for African literature.

Born in London, Casely-Hayford was educated at SOAS, where he received his doctorate in African history and was later awarded an honorary fellowship. As director of 'Africa 05', he organized the largest African arts season in Britain with more than 150 venues hosting 1,000 events.

He has presented two series of The Lost Kingdoms of Africa for the BBC and wrote the companion book (2012). In 2017 Casely-Hayford wrote and presented a six-part television series for Sky Arts called Tate Britain: Great British Walks. He also advised on a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, worked on a British Library exhibition about the African intellectual tradition and consulted on Tate Britain's 'Artist and Empire' exhibition. In the same year he delivered a Ted Global Talk on pre-colonial Africa.

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