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Plank Mask

A work made of wood and pigment.

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  • A work made of wood and pigment.


Early/mid–20th century


Dossi, Burkina Faso
Northern Africa and the Sahel

About this artwork

The size and weight of this butterfly-shaped mask required great strength and skill from its performer. Worn with a costume of long raffia fibers, Bwa masks of different types typically appear in the dry season at community events, such as men’s and women’s initiations, annual renewal ceremonies, burials, and market days.

The geometric patterns on this mask’s surface have been interpreted in different ways in accordance with a viewer’s depth of knowledge. The deeply incised concentric circles can be read as eyes or as rippling pools of water around which butterflies appear in the spring. The hooked nose-like protrusion above the mouth-like opening has been described as a reference to the circumcised penis of a newly initiated boy, and also as the beak of the hornbill, a bird that the Bwa associate with magical powers.


On View, Gallery 137


Arts of Africa




Plank Mask


Burkina Faso (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Wood and pigment


52.1 × 238.8 × 26.7 cm (20 1/2 × 94 × 10 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Charles H. and Mary F. Worcester Collection Fund

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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