Gu mask from West Africa

Q: I bought this mask 7 years ago thru a fundraising auction for a cultural organization in So. Calif. The mask was donated to the auction by a member and was described simply as an African mask. My basic research indicates that it may be from the Baule people of the Ivory Coast and is a Mblo or portrait mask. I don’t think it’s very old, possibly less than 40 years. It measures approx. 21″ high and 8″ wide. Can you tell me if it is in fact a Baule Mblo mask? Thanks for your expertise! Scotty, 1709

A: You are almost right. The Baule and Guro people are located close to each other and share certain similarities. The featured mask is traditional Gu in appearance and was made to be sold to tourists and collectors. The smaller photo is the same type and is authentic. It is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here is what they have to say. “In Guro culture, distinctions are made between masquerades that are the focus of cults and those that are more secular in nature. A sequence of three sacred masks centers around Zamble, a mythical male being whose form fuses antelope and leopard features. He is in turn complemented by his beautiful wife, Gu, and his wild, grotesque brother, Zuali. Such representations are owned by certain families that use them as the loci of sacrificial offerings proposed by diviners to improve their well-being. In contrast, other Guro mask forms, which serve only as sources of entertainment, are designed by individual performers.”

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