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.
Ikwara mask, Gabon, Punu, 19th century, Wood, 46 x 21 x 16.5cm, 1392g, Dation ancient collections of Maurice de Vlaminck, Félicia Dialossin, André Fourquet, 70.2004.1.2
The ikwara mask of the Punu people of Gabon appeared when justice was to be dispensed. It is a harsh, feared mask and was brought out to impose order after a serious event had hit the community, such as theft or murder or when a prohibition had been flouted.