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Dan Ge Gon Bird Mask

Dan ethnic group, Northwestern Ivory Coast/Liberia

First half of the 20th Century

Provenance: Important private French collection

Profound glossy black patina, resulting from repeated anointment and use of incrustations of ritually applied materials.

H 24 x W 15 cm

The border between Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia cuts across several ethnic groups, including the Dan, Wee, Kran, and Grebo. In Dan society, dangerous immaterial forest spirits are translated into the forms of human face masks. Whether or not they’re worn, such sculptured works are spiritually charged and used in performances, being integrated into the hierarchical system that governs political and religious life. Male performers experience a dream sent by the mask’s spirit, allowing them to dance it. Dan masks have been documented as the embodiment of at least a dozen artistic personalities. This mask with its bird-like beak and oval eyes is known as Ge Gon. Originally pedagogical, historical, and regulatory, Ge Gon was described as a mask of wisdom. It has progressively become mostly used for entertainment purposes that appeals through its bird-like movements in performance. Once separated from their performance contexts, mask forms are difficult to identify. Performance masks may span the careers of many generations of wearers, contributing to the increasingly sacred status and charged spirituality of these objects. A masquerade's vitality may also be transferred from one mask form to another. Over time, any respected Dan mask may eventually be elevated to the category of gunagle, the mask that represents a village quarter, or gle wa, a judicial mask.

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