Africa

Baule portrait mask from Ivory Coast

Q: Picked this up at an auction. There is some damage on the top, but I don’t know what caused it. Wondering how old this is and where it is from? Despite the damage, is it still collectible? Pat, 1628

A: You have found an attractive mask and asked some good questions. Damage like this doesn’t lower its value… but being a reproduction does. To the average collector this is good news because an old and used piece would cost so much more. It was probably made recently, but age is of little concern for a reproduction. What you have is collectible.

The Baule are one of the Akan peoples. They moved west to the Ivory Coast more than 200 years ago and adopted masking traditions from their neighbors, the Guro, Senufo and Yaure peoples. This mask probably falls into a special grouping known as ‘portrait masks’, Kpan or Mblo. They are said to portray an honored person of the village who is celebrated during a ceremonial dance. It is an aesthetic performance in which this beautifully carved mask would be worn with a multicolored costume and danced in the most graceful manner by either the person it represents or a relative.

These masks are danced to entertain during days that the Baule do not work and they will also appear to honor important visitors to the village. This classic mask recalls the artistry of the Baule artists of the past. The refined and finally carved face may be similar to the person for whom the mask was originally carved to represent. B

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