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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Dan Masks : Polychrome Dan Mask with Raffia Coiffure
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Polychrome Dan Mask with Raffia Coiffure - PF.8020 (LSO)
Origin: Liberia/Ivory Coast
Circa: 20 th Century AD

Collection: African Art
Style: Go Ge (?)
Medium: Wood, Nails, Raffia

Location: United States
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This powerfully rendered and well-used mask was made on the West African coast, and possesses traits indicative of several distinct groups. The face is long and fairly narrow, with a prominent forehead. The nose and eyebrows are carved in high relief, with flanges at the bottom of the nose to indicate nostrils. The mouth is open, exposing the teeth. The face is painted with stripes of bright colours from the eyes diagonally down to the jawline. The midline of the face is marked with a line of brass studs reaching from the forehead to the chin. The apex of the head is adorned with numerous nails that have been bent over, attaching and supporting various pieces of leather, textile and raffia that surmount the head to represent a hat or coiffure. The patina is uneven, and the mask shows signs of long use.

The form of the mask and the coiffure suggest an origin with the Dan of Liberia and the Ivory Coast. Much of their mythology and social structure is based upon the forest and its fiercer creatures – the Leopard Society is the main organ of social control. Prior to the 1960s there was scarcely a social function that did not have its own mask, from fire-watching (= fire warden), adjudicators, warriors, debt collectors, social delinquents and warriors, and others for enlisting workers to clear paths, to catch runaway wives, to race unmasked athletes (“runner masks”), to snatch feast food to serve to children and even for spying. The paint, however, is unusual for these pieces, which are usually dyed black or very dark brown with minor details (especially the eyes) picked out in lighter colours. It is interesting to note the brass studs, as these are more typical of another West African coastal group: the Bete. However, the facial features are refined and moderate, unlike the grotesque warrior masks produced by the Bete, so it is more probably an example of Dan art.

The precise function of this piece cannot be ascertained with certainty, although it bears characters reminiscent of Go-Ge masks – these were worn for chiefly funerals. Whatever its function, this is an impressive and attractive piece of African art.

- (PF.8020 (LSO))


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