Gola Helmet Mask – Liberia

This impressive Gola helmet mask immediately captures the gaze with its dramatic vertical movement, leading the eye to rest on its finial, which depicts a woman with a high forehead and elaborate coiffure. The face and ringed neck of this mask are attributes commonly associated with Mende art, and consequently this type of mask is often erroneously identified as a woman's mask for the Sande society. It is, in fact, a mask used by the Poro men’s society, and is known as borwu among the Vai and gbetu among the Gola. Both names mean "long neck" and refer to the cultural ideal of a beautiful woman with a long and elegant neck. The classic coiffure indicates a refined woman of social status. This example features an unusually long ringed neck and a delicately carved face. The bold geometric motifs incised on the helmet’s dome are characteristic of Gola versions of the mask. The gbetu is an entertainment mask that performs acrobatic feats, garbed in a voluminous raffia mantle.

Late 19th or early 20th century
32" h 9 1/2" w
Provenance: Ex Jay C. Leff, Uniontown; Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, April 22 1967, lot 29; Frieda and Milton Rosenberg; Sotheby’s New York, November 14, 2008
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