Tag Archives: tribal mask art

Masks – the art of concealment


African painted clay mask, Luluwa – Royal Museum for Central Africa

Photo – Haguard Du Nord


Menagerie of mask mystique


During the first decades of the 20th century, a shift occurred from purely perceptual art to a more conceptual style fueled by a growing interest in the tribal cultures of Africa, Oceania and North America. The ‘Primitivism’ and ‘Africanist’ arts explored by Paul Gauguin just before the beginning of the century was also embraced by artists such as Modigliani, Matisse, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Brancusi, Giacometti and Picasso. It gifted them with a visual narrative that propelled the movement away from naturalism and contributed to a pivotal thrust towards modern and contemporary work. The spread of Colonialism and exploration allowed the artists to become acquainted with exotic masks and sculptures that influenced their change in perception, especially with the evolution of Cubism.

The art of masks has been expressed for many different reasons. Masks have existed as a potent symbol for mystique, communication and power ranging from pure flights of fantasy in a masquerade ball or carnivale festival, depictions of particular characters in opera and theatre, Japanese Kabuki Kumadori masks, revelations of ancestral spirits in tribal ceremonies and use by  Shamans for conveying a deity spirit force.
Primitive tribal artists, through less cultivation of their intellect, perceived reality more directly through their subconscious and intuition. This was one of the reasons why their art was more schematic and minimilized as intuitive awareness needed less detail to understand an object. Their primitive imagery in some ways was actually sophisticated in its own right because it created the desired impact without a need for as much visual realism and complexity. This was used to great effect in the mask arts.



Aegean-Goddess mask TheArtOfTheMask-on-Etsy

Aegean Goddess mask


The mask artists in most ancient cultures earned a respected status, not only because of their artisan skills but because of their ability to infuse “spirit” into the art piece. Masks were judged not only by their artistic appearance but for the power they projected. In Cameroon, mask carvers were held in high esteem and worked mostly for forts (local kings). The late fon (chief) of Babungo was himself a talented carver, who descended from a royal line of carvers.
Generally in Africa, the masks are held to be of great spiritual power, and it’s considered taboo for anyone other than specially trained persons or chosen ones to wear or possess certain masks. These ceremonial masks are each thought to have a soul, or life force, and wearing these masks is thought to transform the wearer into the entity the mask represents.


African Mask from the Tikar tribe of Cameroon-17inches-high-Genuineafrica-com

African Mask from the Tikar tribe of Cameroon

17inches high- Genuineafrica.com


The Baoulé, the Senoufo and the Dan tribes of Africa all believe their world is split into two domains: the human domain which is represented by the village and its people, and the spiritual domain, which is represented by the forest and its spirits and their art. When a dancer wears a mask he becomes the spirit of that mask depending on his skill as a ‘medium’. A masked dancer will speak in the language of the spirits and his words are interpreted by a wise man. There are many different masks, each of which has a distinct use during rituals or festivals. Some masks play an important part in tribal rites while others are simply for entertainment at social gatherings. This is typical for many African tribes and other ancient cultures that used masks in their ceremonies.

In Mozambique the most powerful and important Chokwe mask is known as ‘Chikunga’. It is only worn by chiefs and is used during investiture ceremonies of a chief and for performing sacrifices to the ancestors. During their Mukunda initiation, the youth spend several months in a special lodge where they are instructed in their anticipated roles as men. As part of their instruction, the boys are taught the history and traditions of the group and the secrets associated with the wearing and making of masks.




Chokwe-red-and-white braided hair

Incised African mask – Chokwe red and white


Masks were popular in early Greek theatre and preceded the introduction of acting with spoken lines. Like the African masks, they were also larger in scale and favoured a startling appearance and heightened expression running the full gamut of emotions, whether it be sadness, joy, pain or delight. They were also used as a vehicle to tap the hidden psyche and show larger than life abstract imagery from the subconscious. Just as meditation provides the ability to transcend the notion of limited self, the donning of a ceremonial mask also served as a vehicle for shifting self perception and embracing a higher spirit.
Picasso recognized the transformative power of art when he first witnessed Dan masks at a Paris ethnographic museum exhibition. He realized that the Dan artists were using the masks as a means to express their confrontation and conquering of their own inner fears. And in the process they opened up visionary channels of communication and revealed the hidden inner layers for others to witness. Masks weren’t only a means to conceal the physical appearance but became a metaphor for the presence of a hidden consciousness.

Brancusi said, “what is real is not the external form but the essence of things. It is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its external surface”. The tribal artists intrinsically grasped this concept.



Ghanaian craved wood mask

African Wood Mask Hand Carved ‘Dan Beauty’  Ghana




mosaic mask flickr

Herzstücke Mosaics Mask

Herz Stucke, Flickr



angoram-mask,-sepik-carving, Papua, New Guinea

Sepik mask carving, Papua, New Guinea




kimmy-cantrell abstract cubist mask

Kimmy Cantrell abstract mask




Carved Dan mask - Camaroon

Dan Mask, Ivory Coast




Black Bamana mask, Mali

Bamana mask, Ivory Coast




Mosaic Mask from Malinaltepec. Teotihuacan Exhibition

Turquoise, Amazonite, Obsidian mask from Malinaltepec, Mexico

300-550 AD

Teotihuacan Exhibition





Bambara Mask  — Mali, Africa




Sky Blue with gold highlights 'Small wind' mask by Nives Cicin Sain

 ‘Small wind’ mask by Nives Cicin Sain




Carved wooden Baule Mask - Africa

Carved wooden Baule Mask – Ivory Coast




Tribal mask Billy-Kiten-mask,-Sepik-River

Sepik River mask by Billy Kiten , Papua New Guinea




Wood carved wall sculpture - Congo-Chokwe-mask

Congo Chokwe mask



Art Deco Ceramic-Wall-Mask-'TRAGEDY'-By-Goldscheider-Wien

‘Tragedy’  ceramic wall mask By Goldscheider Wien, Austria




Ivory-Coast-red-mask carved from wood

Ivory Coast red mask




full faced Japanese wooden mask

Carved wood Japanese smiling mask




Daniel hawkins wall mask

‘White Crawl’ mask – Daniel Hawkins






Art Nouveau Egyptian Revival Bronze and Terracotta Burial Mask

NYC Modern



Art Deco Inspired Tamara de Lempicka Wall Mask from Echo Of Deco

Art Deco Inspired ‘Tamara de Lempicka’ Wall Mask from Echo Of Deco




Eharo masks, Elema people, Orokolo Bay, Gulf province New Guinea

Eharo masks, Elema people, Orokolo Bay, Gulf province New Guinea





Water Spirit Mama Wati Face mask. Guro people. Ivory Coast

Mid-20th century



-Elema Mask,-Orokolo-village of New Guinea

Elema Mask, Papua New Guinea




Elemental power mask – Laura Demm



'Epa' mask from the Yoruba people of Nigeria

‘Epa’ mask from the Yoruba people of Nigeria



Fig Leafman ceramic Mask

Fig Leafman ceramic Mask




Gabon long Fang mask

 Long Fang mask, Gabon



Higinio Hernandez Carrillo. Beaded mask,-'Green Jicuri Flower'

Higinio Hernandez Carrillo. Beaded mask, – ‘Green Jicuri Flower’




Isis, Osiris and Nephtys.-Scene from woman's mummy mask

Isis, Osiris and Nephthys. Scene from woman’s mummy mask

Roman Period



Keramik Wandmaske Afrikanerin-1950's

Ceramik Wandmaske Afrikanerin




Kifwebe Songye mask carved wood

Kifwebe Songye mask



Mexican Folk Art Sun Moon mask by Felipe Perez Aygn

20 inches height

Great Green Apple




Japanese-Folk-Art-Opera-Mask in red, grey, black and white

Japanese Folk Art Opera Mask



‘Oracle Mask’  – Daniel Hawkins



Scott Jensen carved mask

Speaking Cedar





Lulula ceremonial mask

African Congo Circa: 20 th Century AD




Stone-mask-'Na`vi Herzstücke Mosaics Mask

Mosaic on stone mask ‘Na`vi  – Herzstücke Mosaics Mask

Herz Stücke Flickr



‘Lustre Masks’ – Beatrice-Wood


Donna Schneier Fine Arts



LydiaMini Raku Ceramic Mask

‘Lydia Mini’ Raku Ceramic Mask – Epsilon Series – 



Ceramic mosaic Mask Lungo by Irina Charny

Ceramic mosaic ‘Mask Lungo’ by Irina Charny




Black sculpture Magic Mask by Elizabeth Catlett

‘Magic Mask’ by Elizabeth Catlett

Photo – Crispin Vasquez



tall mask Boris-Indrikov


Elongated mask – Boris Indrikov




Gold and red Mahakala-Buddha-Wall-Mask

Tibetan Mahakala Buddha Wall Mask with octopus crown




NZ Maori mask by Bob Christopher

Hand carved NZ Maori mask by Bob Christopher



Mask-by Boris Indrikov

Part abstract mask – Boris Indrikov



Maske 'kpelié' from the Senufo people

 ‘Kpelié Makse’ from the Senufo people, Ivory Coast




beaded Ganesha mask, India

Beaded Ganesh mask, India




Bearde man mask

Mask of bearded man, 2nd century B.C



Mask of the 'mblo'-group from the Baule people

Mask from ‘mblo’ group of the Baule people



Janus mask from the Markha people of Mali - wood and metal

Janus mask from the Markha people of Mali



Colourful Mayan mask in green, orange and white

Mayan mask




African Mask by Roger Capron




Mini Dan African_artifact_wood_black_face_mask_cote_i__voire_liberia

Mini Dan African mask_Cote D’IVoire,  Liberia




Steel Mask-by-Hagenauer

Momdernist Mask by Franz Hagenauer

Sheryl’s Art Deco



Sepik River mask - Papua New Guinea

Sepik River mask – Papua New Guinea



Neo-Olmec-mask - Daniel Hawkins

Neo Olmec mask – Daniel Hawkins




‘Off-on-a-Tangent’ — wall mask – Laurie Shaman



New-Guinea-Native-Wood-Mask with shells and string

New Guinea Native Wood Mask




-Likishi-Masquerade-Kaoma-Zambia -photo by Phyllis-Galembo

Likishi Mask, Kaoma, Zambia

 Photo by Phyllis Galembo





‘Frog Mask’ – Preston Singletary, Ed Archie and NoiseCat



lisa Larson ceramic mask

Gustavsberg, Lisa Larson



Raku-fired-with-crawling-glaze Chihula octopus mask

Cthulhu raku fired mask




Senufo Kpeliye'e Double Mask

Senufo Kpeliye’e Double Mask





‘Frog Moon’ by artist Randy Stiglitz




River-Spirit-wall mask--Courtney and Scott-Jensen carved wood and beads

‘River Spirit’ wall mask–Scott and Courtney Jensen




7 cobras mask - Sri laanka

Coiled Cobra mask – Sri Lanka



Teke enameled mask

Teke Mask



Teotihuacan greenstone mask

Teotihuacan greenstone mask




Chalk Ware Sarem Italy Lenci Lady




and carved and painted mask

Vintage African carved mask





Sascha Brastoff mask








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