Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Face Mask

Date:
19th–mid-20th century
Geography:
Côte d'Ivoire or Liberia
Culture:
Dan peoples
Medium:
Wood
Dimensions:
H. 8 5/8 x W. 5 x D.2 9/16 in. (21.9 x 12.7 x 6.5 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964
Accession Number:
1978.412.303
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
The border between Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia cuts across several ethnic groups, including the Dan, Wee, Kran, and Grebo. In Dan society, dangerous immaterial forest spirits are translated into the forms of human face masks. Whether or not they are worn, such sculptures are spiritually charged. Male performers, gle-zo, experience a dream sent by the mask spirit that allows them to dance it. In performance, the masks are integrated into the hierarchical system that governs political and religious life.
Dan masks have been documented as the embodiment of at least a dozen artistic personalities. Among these are Deangle, who ventures into the village from the initiation camps to ask women for food; Tankagle and Bagle, who entertain through a range of aesthetically pleasing dances, skits, and mimes; Gunyege, whose mask is worn by a community's champion foot racers in competitions; and Bugle, who historically leads men into battle.
Once they are divorced from their performance contexts, however, mask forms are difficult to identify. Performances of Bete and Wee masks may span the careers of many generations of wearers, contributing to the increasingly sacred status of these objects. A masquerade's vitality may also be transferred from one mask form to another. Over time, any respected Dan mask may eventually be elevated to the category gunagle, the mask that represents a village quarter, or gle wa, a judicial mask.
#991. Kids: Face Mask
For Audio Guide tours and information, visit metmuseum.org/audioguide.
[Matthias Komor, New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1964; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1964–1978

Museum of Primitive Art. Masterpieces in the Museum of Primtive Art: Africa, Oceania, North America, Mexico, Central to South America, Peru. Handbook series. New York, NY: Museum of Primitive Art, 1965, no 8.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 317.

Related Objects

Face Mask

Artist: Date: 19th–mid-20th century
Accession Number: 1978.412.303
Date: 19th–mid-20th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1978.412.303 On view in:Gallery 352

Helmet Mask

Artist: Date: 19th–mid-20th century
Accession Number: 1979.206.249
Date: 19th–mid-20th century Medium: Wood, pigment Accession: 1979.206.249 On view in:Gallery 352

Miniature Mask

Artist: Date: 19th–mid-20th century
Accession Number: 1979.206.311
Date: 19th–mid-20th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1979.206.311 On view in:Gallery 352

Miniature Mask

Artist: Date: 19th–mid-20th century
Accession Number: 1979.206.312
Date: 19th–mid-20th century Medium: Wood, metal Accession: 1979.206.312 On view in:Gallery 352

Mask (Kagle)

Artist: Date: 19th–20th century
Accession Number: 1986.481.2
Date: 19th–20th century Medium: Wood, brass tacks, nails, cane, dried mud Accession: 1986.481.2 On view in:Gallery 352