About This Artwork

Burkina Faso

Fish Mask, Late 19th/early 20th century

Wood and pigment
114.3 x 17.8 cm (45 x 7 in.)

Mrs. Chauncey B. Borland Fund, 1958.116

Among the Bwa, families and lineages have special relationships with nature spirits and ancestors. Such beings are embodied through masquerades that reenact mythic events. In performance, an elderly man carrying a fish net pursues the fish mask shown here. The fish allows the man to capture it, sacrificing itself for the survival of its human counterpart. In contrast, the dwarf mask [see 2000.313] is performed only by the Bondé family and is much smaller in scale than the average Bwa mask. It honors an ancestor who was famed for his knowledge and abilities in the wilderness. As he lay dying, he asked to be remembered with a mask carved to his size.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Publication History

Charles H. Long, Alpha: The Myths of Creation (New York: George Braziller, 1963), n. pag., pl. 18.

Allen Wardwell, Primitive Art in the Collections of the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 1965), fig. 68 (ill.).

Ownership History

John J. Klejman (died 1995), Klejman Gallery, New York, N.Y., by 1958; sold to the Art Institute, 1958.

Interpretive Resources

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