DAN/BASSA PASSPORT MASK, LIBERIA
This very rare and fine passport mask of oval form with tapering facial plane ending in a pointed chin, pierced almond shaped eyes below a slightly overhanging forehead below an intricately carved coiffure; fine dark brown glossy patina belongs to the category of ‘Miniature Masks’, often called “pas” masks, which are found among the various peoples of Liberia and Ivory Coast, including Dan, Yacouba, Gio, Wenion (We, Guere), Geh , Loma, Konor and Bete. This is from the Dan people. Sharing a wide range of uses, they are the personal masks for initiated adult men and will be worn on their person or kept in personal sanctuaries in the home. They wore small “passport” masks in leather bags when traveling. Pass masks serve to mark an initiate entering the secret society of men and his exaltation in the higher ranks. The small masks can be presented at meetings with older members of men’s communities to indicate their right to be present and participate in the discussions.
Diviners would recommend that children be given small masks to wear to ward off evil witches or cure diseases. Small masks placed on shrines would receive their owner’s sacrifices and prayers and over time would accumulate a rich patina of various substances that could obscure their features.
Most of these miniature masks reflect the shape and features of the larger masks that they were modeled after. Like the full-size dance masks, the smaller masks reflect the great diversity of styles and shapes of the larger masks.
Age: Est. early 20th Century.
Measure: H: 15, W: 5,5, D: 4 cm.
Provenance: French private collection, bought from Art Gallery, New York.
Carol Finley; “The Art of African Masks: Exploring Cultural Traditions” (Art Around the World) 1991