20th Century AD
27″ (68.6cm) high x 12″ (30.5cm) wide
Central Ivory Coast
Baule sculptures are some of the most immediately recognizable works of art in Africa. They constitute wonderfully expressive and unique objects that are instantly appealing. The Baule believe that wooden sculptures and masks allow a closer contact with the supernatural world. Though ancestors are the object of worship they are not depicted. Instead, we find images of individuals ranging from the very realistic to the highly abstract.
This very lovely mask can be placed in both categories, comprising two distinct aesthetic forms. The lower circular shape is the most abstract. It is bordered by a design of semi- circles carved from the edge. This serves to give the face greater vitality and movement. The mouth is an oblong section of wood with two rows of perfect teeth; simply carved but very effective. Equally as surprising are the conical shaped eyes which shoot out from their sockets as if in surprise or wonder. A young girl sits on top of the lower portion, her legs cleverly incorporated into the wood. She seems to have sprung from the forehead, (like Athena from her father Zeus), having instantly sprouted into a very seductive female holding a disk with her rope-like arms. She bears the essential characteristics of a fertility figure, with her prominent breasts and alluring expression. The disk she carries repeats the floral pattern of the bottom section. In fact, the entire mask resembles a giant exotic flower, blossoming in some secret world where dancers swirl up dust, sing old songs, drink palm wine and dream of an ideal world of benevolent spirits and sensuous women.