Object of the day: a Dan mask from Ivory Coast

Pierre Herme Dan Mask Ivory Coast


A friend recently gave me the above mask. It looks like a Dan mask from Ivory Coast. Unfortunately it doesn’t have much provenance; my friend himself had bought it at a dealer in Paris, a certain Pierre Hermé. A striking feature are the large tube-like eyes; their rim is decorated with a whitish substance. As the oval mouth, the eyes are closed. The mask’s size, 28 cm, however, is too large to make it a miniature mask. The bulbous forehead is a clear influence of the Wè, the Dan’s eastern neighbors (also called Gere or Kran). The vertical scar on the overhanging forehead attributes this mask to the Southern Dan. The cheeks of the mask have several small holes – an unusual element. The nose is triangular-shaped, with vaguely indicated nostrils. The lips of the big mouth apparently were subject to ritual scrapings. The mask is partly covered with an encrusted sacrificial layer, consisting of an unidentified brownish powder.

Since the form of a Dan mask did not necessarily determined its function, it is not easy to say something about its original use. Each mask could fulfill different roles within the village; there was hardly any social activity which did not feature the involvement of a mask. It is only possible to make statements on the use of a mask when information regarding its in-situ history is available. It is important to note that the character, status and function of these masks could change during the life of their owner. Just as a person might climb the social ladder, so too could a mask ascend in rank. An entertainment mask, for example, could in time transform into a law-giving mask. Although the appearance of a mask did not change substantially throughout the years, its reputation and prestige often evolved with its age.

I don’t want to hurt my friend’s feelings – as we say in dutch, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth – but I think this mask is a well-executed fake; the faker used the wrong material: chocolate instead of wood !


ps after some sleuthing I was able to discover the chocolate maker’s inspiration..

Dan Mask Renaud Vanuxem Ivory Coast


Update: in fact Ivory Coast is a mass producer of cacao beans, but as this short Dutch documentary shows many farmers have never even tasted chocolate..