Amongst the Bamana the six initiation societies called jow are of profound social significance. The final level of spiritual and intellectual education is completed within the Kore society, which comprises eight classes or grades, each with its own emblem. One such emblem is the hyena (suruku), a symbol of greed and insatiableness that represents limited, prosaic human knowledge far removed from divine wisdom.
Graced with a near-black patina, this beautiful hyena mask delivers an immediate visual impact with its beautifully elongated form. The lovely ridge of the nose descends from a forcefully projecting forehead, bending inwards and bisecting the shadowed concavity of the face, which is pierced by two rectangular eye holes. Planted firmly on the rectilinear base of its chin, the silhouette of the mask reaches dramatically upward, rising up through the narrow visage and the arch of the head to the tips of the fiercely pointed ears. This mask is of a style found in the dry lands of the eastern Beledougou, located in the region of Koulikoro in central Mali.
The importance of African sculpture as crucial inspiration for Cubism cannot be overstated. Picasso's dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, affirmed this, and in his discussion of Picasso's exploration of African sources in the years before and after the creation of his 1907 masterpiece Les Demoisells d'Avignon, William Rubin identifies the concave facial planes of Bamana masks as likely inspirational source: "A rather idiosyncratic form of concavity can be found in Studies for the Head of a Peasant Woman that Picasso executed in late summer 1908 during his stay on La Rue des Bois. The profile versions of the head in the lower center and right of the sheet…recall the concavity of Bamana masks of a type probably visible then in France."