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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Dan Masks : Dan Wooden Go Ge Mask with a Raffia Wig
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Dan Wooden Go Ge Mask with a Raffia Wig - PF.3090 (LSO)
Origin: Liberia/Ivory Coast
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 16" (40.6cm) high x 6" (15.2cm) wide
Collection: African
Style: Dan
Medium: Wood and Raffia

Additional Information: Dimensions Include the Raffia Hair

Location: United States
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This serene mask was made by one of the undisputed master carving tribes: the Dan, of the Ivory Coast and Liberia. It is a classic example of the genre; its exact identity and function is described below. It is comparatively tall and slender, while retaining the traditional prominent forehead and pointed chin. The lower face is concave up until the brows, which angle sharply to provide the forehead’s bulbous dome which is framed by a raffia coiffure which hangs down as a pair of braids (the left – as viewed from the front – slightly the longer). The eyes are closed, and rendered as semicircular slits on the carefully formed and rounded cheeks. The nose is comparatively broad, pointed at the tip, and rendered as an inverted T with incising of the nostrils’ external outline. The lips are exceptionally large and full, and slightly parted. The coiffure is internally bordered by another line of darker (?leather) material. The patina is dark and glossy, with lightening of tone on the most elevated points.

The Dan are a farming tribe, settled in the semi- wooded areas of Liberia and the ivory Coast. While beholden to agriculture, 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. For example, initiates spend up to four months alone in the forest before they are permitted to enter maturity. Dan society was originally a string of spatially-proximate but socially distinct communities, and while they are now – technically at least – centralised, their diversity has found expression in the range of masks and other artefacts that they manufacture.

There was scarcely a social function that did not have its own mask prior to the 1960s. Participants and citizens held them to be imbued with sylvan energy that would enforce or formalise whatever function they served. For example, there are masks for 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. They were also used in standard masquerades, which have seen something of a revival due to the impact of tourism. Small masks – called “passport” masks – were kept as talismans of good luck, to ward off illness or the evil eye, and may have also served as markers of authority and ambassadorial functions. Masks were inherited through lineages, kept on altars and endowed with libations. Some retain black pitch-like substances which are presumed to be the remains of magical materials. Close affinities with the Mano, Konor, Mao, Tura and Wenion people mean that these forest tribes carve Dan- like masks which are used in rituals as diverse as circumcision and as markers to the meeting places of secret societies.

Function is not always easy to ascertain, paradoxically, as the masks were usually associated with costumes that have not survived, and of course with particular occasions, dances or people. In lacking these, we have only stylistic tendencies to go on. In the current case, certain categories can be ruled out, such as the gunyege [runner] mask (large round eyes, often inlaid) and the zakpai ge (firewatch) mask, which usually has a red cloth tied around the eyes). The serene expression and raffia coiffure is most reminiscent of the rare Go Ge mask, which belongs to the Go secret society and is worn to announce the demise of important personages such as chiefs.

This is an exceptional piece of African art.

- (PF.3090 (LSO))


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