The mask hides as much as it reveals, “denies as much as it affirms”, as Claude Lévi-Strauss asserted. Very often the holder of a secret, the mask conceals that which only the initiated should know.
The mask’s power also lies in its capacity to incarnate spirits, a link between man and his ancestors, between the visible and the invisible world. It is inseparable from a mythical context which structures the mode of existence and thought of the majority of traditional societies.
Central to the life of a group or a community, the mask, an indispensable intercessor, is always active.
Mask, Nigeria, Yoruba, 19th- 20th century, Wood, pigments, metal, 51 x 38 x 25cm, Ancient collection of Barbier-Mueller, 73.1997.4.120
This mask endowed with a face on both sides was the first to appear during ceremonies which concerned water spirits. This bi-faced form was rare: masks which evoke the aquatic world and the associated spirits can adopt a horizontal position as if they are floating on water.