Mblo portrait mask from West Africa

For the Baule people of Ivory Coast, masks are danced and performed to entertain. This Mblo mask’s feminine features and colors create an image of calm and grace. The mask is meant to exemplify an ideal of personal beauty and composure.

Mblo is the name of a performance category that uses face masks in skits and solo dances. Mblo masks, used in entertainment dances are one of the oldest of Baule art forms. These refined human face masks are usually portraits of particular known individuals.

Mblo masks embody the core Baule sculpture style manifested in figures and decorated objects – spoons, combs, pulleys and the like. Lustrous curving surfaces, suggesting clean, healthy, well-fed skin, are set off by delicately textured zones representing coiffures, scarification, and other ornaments. The idealized faces are introspective, with the high foreheads and the large downcast eyes.

This example is less detailed, and in my opinion, even more beautiful than most of the Mblos we see. Rather than all black or dark brown, the artist has chosen muted green and orange… a surprising color combination.

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