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Art of Africa - Study of a mask

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The mask does not feature in all African societies, for instance, its presence is less in East Africa compared to West Africa. The term ?mask? signifies both wooden carved faces and the costumes, bracelets, anklets used in the music and dance of a secular or religious community. Understanding of masks helps to define a culture. There is a multitude of masks but the most common is the wooden face mask found in Ivory Coast and Liberia. From a formal point of view, the face masks range from that of human or animal, sometimes a combination of both, to an abstract structure, as the Krou masks of Ivory Coast. It can be simply carved from wood or made from vegetable fiber (as is the case here). Finally, the wearer of the mask is often concealed under a costume or some kind of fabric to shield his body from worldly eyes.

Whether for entertainment, initiation ceremonies, funerals or justice, the place and role of masks within the society are constantly changing. In fact, masks have characteristics specific to stylistic and visual cultures such as the Grebo and Oubi on which information is scarce. It is therefore appropriate to study this work in a geographical and cultural context: that of the culture of Kroo in Ivory Coast and Liberia, which includes Dan and Wè, because their way of understanding a mask and its utilization remains close if not identical.

Dan's population is distributed in the northeast and northwest of Liberia from Côte d'Ivoire, in areas covered by savanna and the forest in the south. Owing to lack of central authority, the groups lacked political unity or institution until the end of the last century. Dan's belief is based on the existence of two distinct worlds: that of the village, and that of the forest with the animals, spirits crossing the line between these two spheres can be dangerous. The means of communication between men and invisible spirits of the forest is through the dream.

The wooden masks are very numerous and embody the spiritual power called the supernatural Gle, who lives in the forest and wishes to participate in village life. However, invisible, it appears as a dream to any man who will then be initiated to inform the council of elders. Then the board will decide to use a mask to wear for the dreamer. The presence of the mask is needed for each significant event.

Fisher in 1978, distinguished eleven types of masks that meet similar functions, and can have similar formal elements. The Deangle, for example, is a female mask, benevolent, oval, slit eyes covered with a layer of white kaolin, forehead to the nose broken by a vertical ridge, protruding lips. Other masks only appear at festivals such as Bagle with tubular eyes and low forehead, a mustache, the skull topped by horns, designed to make people laugh. Dan masks are not the spirits of the bush: they are spirits sent by God, Zlan, participating in decision community.

Tags: significance of masks, Deangle, Bagle

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