African, ‘Dan Wooden Deangle Face Mask’, 20th Century AD, Barakat Gallery
African, ‘Dan Wooden Deangle Face Mask’, 20th Century AD, Barakat Gallery
African, ‘Dan Wooden Deangle Face Mask’, 20th Century AD, Barakat Gallery
African, ‘Dan Wooden Deangle Face Mask’, 20th Century AD, Barakat Gallery

The Dan believe the world is divided into two distinct realms: the village, including its inhabitants and human-made utensils; and the domain of the forest, with its wild animals, cultivatable fields and bon spirits. Crossing the dividing line between the two worlds is dangerous; both in the real, physical sense and in the spiritual. Communication was made between humans and spirits through dreams. The wooden masks of the Dan are the incarnation of the supernatural force called Gle, who lives in the forest and wishes to participate in the village. Since it is invisible, it must appear in full form in the dream of a male initiate, who would then go to the village elders and tell them of his vision. They were the ones to decide whether to have a mask created and worn by the dreamer.

Spirits come in as many forms and variety as the masks, which are designed to depict the individual qualities of the different entities. Through the medium of the mask, human and spirit interact, becoming one in song and dance, frolicking in joy, twisting and turning in mock possession; in a sense, learning from one another in trance. The mask has a serious role to play, especially in initiation ceremonies, as did this remarkable example. Its features resemble the Deangle – with her oval face, slitted eyes, and metal teeth. She is a benevolent female spirit who acts as intermediary between young people undergoing initiation and the village. When she participates in a ritual ceremony, she undergoes a transformation and is renamed Bonagle. She neither sings nor dances but seeks food from the women; chasing them around the village, joking and teasing them in the spirit of fun. Her face is delicate and smooth, her eyes touched with a hint of mischief, her mouth open in amusement and gaiety. In knowing her character we can feel her playfulness, and the pleasure she gave to young girls laughing and running with their friends.

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