20th Century AD
13″ (33.0cm) high
The Dan are a farming people who inhabit the hinterland of the western Ivory Coast and Liberia. They have a great number of masked figures that represent spirits of the bush, and fulfill a variety of social, political, and religious functions. Although eleven individual types of masks can be distinguished by formal criteria, the types cannot be associated with specific functions because the meaning of the masks changes over time.
Dan people have achieved notoriety in the area for their entertainment festivals which were historically village ceremonies, but are today performed largely for tourists. During these performances, masked performers dance on stilts. The Kaogle mask, created by the Kran subgroup, can be characterized by its arching cheekbones, triangular nose, and broad protruding forehead and mouth. This mask in particular is unusual for its rectangular eyes that project out of the lower plane of the mask. Such eyes are generally characteristic of the Gere tribe, neighbors of the Dan. Other features such as the interplay between void and mass, and the sharp truncation of the forehead recall the works of the nearby Bete tribe. Surely this mask reveals the artistic influence that each tribe had upon the other. Traditionally, the Kaogle masks were used to stimulate a festive mood among the audience before the main festival began. While this mask once entertained the masses of anxious villagers, today it astounds us with its remarkable beauty.