Von Gla Mask

Wè, Bété-Guere, ca. 1970s
Wood, metal, hair, fiber, pigment, bullet casings
Ex coll. William S. Arnett

Perhaps the most well known art forms on the African continent are masks and performances. Practiced by many cultures, masking encourages discussions about secrecy, knowledge, and entertainment. Masking in Africa is about revealing and giving shape to spirits, ancestors, and forces that otherwise cannot be seen. The Wè, which encompasses several ethnic groups that live in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, have a diverse masking tradition that is visually similar to the neighboring Dan group. The Von Gla mask gives form to a bush spirit and incorporates wild boar tusks, bullet casings, and a mane of aluminum and wood faux leopard teeth to create a mask of actual and figurative power objects. The bold colors and protruding tubular eyes bring to life a dangerous and wild character from the spirit realm that can enter the human space of the town or village. These masks serve a judicial function but their aggressive appearance also repels negative energies.