Dan mask from Liberia or Ivory Coast

Q: I got this mask at an open air market in New Orleans over 25 years ago and it has been hidden away on a basement shelf for the last 20 years. At the time I collected masks, but don’t any more. The person who sold it had two similar masks, but I only bought one. He said it was an African funeral mask…but I don’t remember any other details that he may have given. Some of the cowrie shells and stitching have come loose – I included the pictures, dust and all. I don’t know if it has any value or if there is more to the story. Brenda, 1667

A: Google “Dan masks” to find some that look a lot like yours. Unfortunately, I can’t tell from your photos anything about value. However, here is what Rand African Art has to say about a similar Dan mask…

Masks are the most important art form of the Dan. Many of the other forms of sculpture are derived from the mask and what the mask symbolizes. Numerically, more masks are created than any other form of sculpture. Spiritually, masks are perceived to embody the most powerful of spirit forces. Socially, masks are the means of bringing control and order to village life. Masks provide the strongest impressions of a young Dan person’s earliest experience. The carver carves the wooden face, and this is accompanied by attire that includes forest materials such as raffia, feathers, and fur. The wearer of the mask takes on all these characteristics and qualities when he wears the mask ensemble.

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