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, Ivory Coast, Krou, 19th century, Wood, pigments, cotton, straw, shells, feathers, metal 68 x 20 x 17.5cm, 840g, Gift of the Ivory Coast, Committee, World’s Fair 1900, 71.1900.44.103
This mask is composed of protruding wooden sections and geometric designs. The tubular eyes, triangular nose, and the protruding rectangular mouth form a schematic face. The colours reinforce the idea of contrast and opposition: the black and white seem dull against the vivid blue. The feather headdress and the beard made from plant fibres make the mask taller, which suggests that the mask may not have been worn on the face. Made in the south west of the Ivory Coast, this artefact was exhibited in Paris at the start of the 20th century and influenced artists of the time, such as Pablo Picasso.