Dan Mask - Liberia

This superb Dan mask is characterized by its pointed oval face, slit eyes, high forehead, elegant nose, opened mouth and glossy, black patina. Sensitively carved features and smooth facial planes conjure an air of serene beauty and grace. Lengths of braided fiber form the mask’s coiffure, framing the face behind the cheekbones.

One of the most iconic of all traditional Dan art forms, dean gle represent just one type of forest spirit (gle) that desires engagement and communication with the human world. Once the spirit is dreamt by, and reveals its function to, an initiated member of a men’s society, with the approval of the elders’ council, a mask of the gle will be carved for the initiate to dance, accompanied by a full-body costume constructed of raffia, feathers and fur. Gle masks are complex, unique entities and may evolve a great deal through lifespans several generations long, taking on new functions, features, and sometimes many names.

Though technically genderless, dean gle are typically regarded as feminine entities, personifying idealized beauty and approaching the community to nurture, instruct and delight.

 

Dan, Liberia
Wood, fiber
Late 19th century
H 10"   W 6.25"

Provenance: Morris J. Pinto, New York; Loudmer; Patricia Withofs, London (and by descent through the family); Sotheby’s; Myron Kunin

Exhibited in Masks from the West African Dan People, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, June 12–November 28, 2010
#470
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