face mask

We people
Creation date
wood, pigment, shells, cloth, fiber, fur, paper, metal, feathers, quills
19 x 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.
Credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Eiteljorg
Accession number
Currently On View In
Eiteljorg Suite of African and Oceanic Art - W305

Some masks of the We and other peoples in this area are noted for the variety of materials added to them.  For example, very little of the wood surface of this carving is visible since it has been covered with repeated applications of paint, fur, shells, cloth, feathers and other materials.  The cartridge shells at the top and the wooden leopard's teeth bordering the sides and bottom of the mask indicate that it is a male.

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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

A bristling, three-dimensional mask, styled like a snarling leopard, is ingeniously constructed with feathers, quills, shells, fur, and other materials. Aggressive details such as cartridge shells on the top and wooden leopards' teeth edging the sides and bottom indicate that the mask is intended to be male. This carving emanates an assertive, spiritually commanding aura.

In the social life of the We people, the mask acts as a mediator between members of the community and as a tool for teaching moral lessons during civil disputes or public entertainment. Masks created in this part of Africa-eastern Liberia and western Côte d'Ivoire-are often cumulative and used for generations. Once a plain wood carving, this mask now displays successive applications of materials that have added ritual significance and visual impact. A male artist was commissioned to carve the mask; others, during the lifetime of use, added shells, fur, and other objects. The more the mask accumulates, the greater its power. The masker also wears an immense raffia skirt and might carry a staff.

The masquerade is a spirit . . . given to men to organize and discipline them. . . . The sacred masquerade is thus the stabilizing element of society.
-We scholar Angele Gnonsoa, 1983