12721. Dan Guerre Wood Carved Mask
Liberia, c. 1940
This somber, imposing, portrait mask representing the archetype of a wise older male is carved with abstract, geometric shapes and bears exaggerated grotesque characteristics, including hollow, rectilinear, and mechanical-looking eyes, a pointed nose, and an open mouth with tongue extended,
The mask is adorned with a simian helmet featuring protective metal spikes, and a woven textile beard made of twine and hair. The face is painted with deep red pigment from the modern era, and the haunting eyes are a stark white made of ancient kaolin.
Dan masks were used in ritual ceremonies by secret societies in Liberia. These secret societies were separated by gender, and this mask, which is strongly masculine, would likely have belonged to a male-only secret society.
In Dan culture, the role of masks was twofold: firstly, to provide a sense of anonymity and therefore a fierce and intimidating psychological presence surrounding the wearer, and secondly to channel a variety of archetypal spirits that were believed to exist in the wilderness surrounding the various tribes.
The term gle is used by scholars to refer both the masks themselves, as well as the supernatural forces said to be embodied by the masks. The Dan believed that the only way to entice the gle (the supernatural force) to emerge from the wilderness and inhabit its human hosts was through an elaborate mens only masquerade ritual. The decision making process by which the masks are created involves the men of a particular tribe reporting their dreams to their elders, at which point the elders deliberate if the particular archetypal energy from that dream should be manifested, and how the mask should be built.
It is interesting to note that much of modern and contemporary art can be traced back to Dan masks, due to Picassos African Period, lasting from 1906 until 1909, in which his style was strongly influenced by African art, in particular African masks, from which he draws his cubistic style. Picassos Les Demoiselles dAvignon (1907), which features cubistic nude females with mask-like faces, was a seminal painting that affected the course of art history, popularizing cubism, as well as the representation of female figures painted with aggression and misogyny on the part of the artist, as opposed to the majority of figurative art throughout Western art history, which portrayed women as docile Venus figures. Two examples of an outgrowth of this trend in art history are DeKoonings The Woman series, began in 1950, and Jackson Pollacks, The Moon Woman series, circa 1940.
Pierced along edges. Well varied aged worn patina. Size: 11-1/2 in H. + base. Ex. Paul Rossi collection.
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