Dan Mask – Liberia

Dan masks are embodiments of gle or ge, discorporate spirits who wish to communicate with and aid human communities but who lack a physical form. Materialized in masks inspired through dream messages, they thus attain the power to achieve their desires through the medium of masquerade. This mask is referred to as gunye ge and appears for the running of ritual races. Though in previous eras gunye ge may have figured in martial training for men, in modern times it changes hands as a kind of trophy to the fastest runner in the ceremonial chase.

This gunye ge is a classic example of its type, featuring a delicate oval face dominated by wide, circular, staring eyes that afford clear vision to the runner. Its other trademarks – a high, prominent brow, pointed nose and full lips – are here joined by a full and well-preserved beard. Warm highlights to the mask’s dark patina accentuate the structures of mouth, nose and eyes and bring increased dimensionality to an already outstanding piece of canonical Dan carving.

Late 19th or early 20th century
8 1/2” h (17” h incl. beard) 4 1/2” w
Wood, fiber
Provenance: Ex Myron Kunin; private US collection
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