The Dan call masks gle or ga and believe them to be manifestations of wild forest spirits. These spirits (du) have no form, but when they wish to use their powers to support humankind, they manifest themselves in powerful objects, large ritual spoons or masks. Spirits select an individual to impersonate them by appearing in his or her dreams. Only men, however, are selected to don masks that represent spirits. The spirit informs the man of the required type of mask, its name, accoutrements, musical accompaniment and dance steps.
Dan masks range in design from naturalistic to highly stylized. They represent male and female humans, male animals or a mixture of human and animal features. Masks appear in contexts related to social control, political and judicial matters, peacemaking, education, competition and entertainment.
The Dan commissioned artists to carve masks but not often. Successful old masks were preferred and were employed as long as possible. The identity and contexts of use changed over time. Accordingly, an entertainment mask could become a renowned court justice mask.
Flat face mask with narrow elliptical incisions for eyes surrounded by a band of white pigment, a ridge from forehead to nose, incised arched lines on forehead and metal teeth.
Published References : Donner, E. 1940. "Kunst und Handwerk in No-Liberia." Baessler-Archiv, vol. 23, p. 107.
Published References : Société Génerale de Banque. 1974. Masques du monde. Bruxelles: Société Génerale de Banque, no. 5.
Published References : National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 40-41, no. 20B.
Object number : 85-15-1
Type : Mask
See more items in : National Museum of African Art Collection
Exhibition : Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts
On View : NMAfA, Second Level Gallery (2193)
Credit Line : Museum purchase
Geography : Liberia
Restrictions & Rights : Usage conditions apply
Medium : Wood, iron, pigment
Dimensions : H x W x D: 33 x 25.4 x 10.1 cm (13 x 10 x 4 in.)
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