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, Guinea, Malinke, 20th century, Wood, aluminium, brass, mirror, 73 x 28 x 18cm, 1901g, 73.1998.3.1
This facial mask covered with cut-out aluminium pieces and circular mirrors is used during initiation by the Malinke people of Guinea. The majority of the masks carved in Africa play a role during initiation. This is a period of learning divided into many stages that can last from several months to several years, which is the case for the Malinke people. The different levels group together individuals of the same age who are initiated together. The metal decorations are influenced by the decorative designs of Islamic art.