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This exceptional and powerful face mask has been carved in oval form, with a grooved beard; small ‘slit’ mouth; a triangular nose; four eye holes; and a canopy brow decorated with a row of metal studs. The facial plane is decorated with conical elements – some very long and others quite short – the ends of which are hollowed and filled with white ochre. The longer ones radiate from the face in a very pleasing and decorative manner.
The perimeter of the mask is surrounded by pierced holes for attachment.
Such a mask was used either as a war (te’e gla) mask or a wisdom (gla kla’a) mask.
A similar example comprised lot 45A in Sotheby’s New York’s Important Tribal Art sale of November 20, 1991. The Sotheby’s example had previously been exhibited at Gallery Kamer in New York in 1971, and illustrated in ‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art edited by Wiliam Rubin (1984). That same mask was offered again by Sotheby’s in their 2012 sale African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art Including Property from the Lerner, Shoher and Vogel Collections, as lot 119.
The Wobe people of the Ivory Coast are closely related to the Gere (Ngere) also of the Ivory Coast. The tribes are governed by confederations. The largest of these tend to be the warrior confederation, led by a military chief, and it also acts as the civil authority. Today, the Wobe number around 280,000 people.
The surface of the mask here has a splendid, varying patina with encrustation that is similar to the Sotheby’s example. The top of the mask has a small, old split. Overall, this is a wonderful, rare and highly decorative mask.
Baquart, J.B., The Tribal Arts of Africa, Thames & Hudson, 1998.
Sotheby’s New York, Important Tribal Art, November 20, 1991.
Sotheby’s New York, African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art Including Property from the Lerner, Shoher and Vogel Collections, May 11, 2012.