About This Artwork

Dan
Liberia

Miniature Mask, Early/mid–20th century

Wood
H. 9.5 cm (3 3/4 in.)

Gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, 2007.576

In Dan society, hidden but dangerous forest spirits are depicted on human face masks that are worn during public performances. This art form has an intensive repertoire—each mask is considered to have its own personality, powers, and social function. Until the 1960s, almost every social activity involved the participation of an active masker, whose identity was kept completely hidden during performances. All Dan masks are also created in miniature, and these smaller versions also have many functions: they often served as private charms for the porters or wearers of the masks during public ceremonies, as sacred and powerful objects to be used in the context of men’s secret societies, and as badges of protection during times of difficulty or danger. Sometimes they are hung on a child’s body in a bag to prevent or cure an illness, and although women are prohibited from possessing performance masks, a new bride may take a miniature mask with her as she leaves her family home to move in with her husband as a way to honor her own lineage (see also 2007.574 and 2007.575).

—Permanent Collection Object Description

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Ownership History

Muriel Kallis Newman (died 2008), Chicago, Ill., by 1980; given to the Art Institute, 2007.




Interpretive Resources

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