Human Rights Watch - Voices for Justice
29 March, 2017
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Baule
Baule Mask





Republic of Côte d’Ivoire

Wood

H. 45 cm  


This lot has been generously donated by Mr. Didier Claes.

lot description

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artist biography

The portrait mask, depicting a perfectly symmetrical composition of idealized beauty, originates from the Baule – one of the most important tribes in Côte d’Ivoire.

 

The BAULE, found in central Côte d’Ivoire, are one of the country’s most important tribes. This group – Akan in origin (an eastern Ivorian people) – owes its name to a legend dating back to the 18th century, when queen Aba Pokou guided her people to the goldmine regions further west. During this exodus, she had to sacrifice her son to the river god Comoé in order to be able to cross, and from that point onwards her people were known as Bauli, meaning ‘the son is dead’.

 

During the 19th century, the Baule kingdom crumbled under the pressure of internal disputes and then wars of conquest. When the French colonisers arrived in the early 20th century the BAULE were lacking a centralised structure, living in village groupings run in relatively egalitarian fashion by elders’ councils. Considered particularly refined by westerners, this people’s statuary art – including their masks and statues which were by that point well known – was particularly popular during the first half of the 20th century, which explains the significant presence occupied by such objects in both public and private collections.

 

Masks of this type, showing idealised beauty, would have depicted an inhabitant of the village renowned for their beauty or dancing skill. Thus, considered to be ‘portrait masks’, they bore the name of their model but could also be more generally referred to as n’doma. These masks were used during a masquerade that took place during the last part of the gba-gba dance.

 

The oval face, sat beneath a hairstyle arranged in four delicately striped shells, has a perfectly symmetrical composition either side of a long nose topped with the tripartite scar pattern characteristic of the Baule.

 

The two circular-arc-shaped eyebrows create a heart shape in the upper portion of the face, with the point falling at the small mouth, the corners of which are also decorated with scarification.

 

The soft contours that characterize Baule sculpture are particularly evident in the narrow oval of the face, the elongation of which is compounded by the tall hairstyle. There would originally have been multiple colors used, as evidenced by the traces of blue pigment (hair) and red pigment (mouth). The dry, slightly cracked patina highlights the finesse and preciousness of the sculpture, whilst its dark, monochrome coloring accentuates the face’s serene and profound expression.

 

All of these elements make this mask a piece with a hugely sober aesthetic.

 

my notes

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