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Wan-pesego Mask

Arts of Africa

Becoming Another

The play associated with masquerade can lead to the invention of new types of identities and new hybrid, not-quite-human masked beings. Moments of passage—into or out of this world, through birth or death, or from childhood to adulthood—bring with them the potential for disorder. Masquerade can offer a vision of transcendence, suggesting that such concerns belong to a world beyond limited human understanding. By transforming its participants into nonhuman beings, masquerade performance transcends everyday human reality and reminds all involved that their immediate concerns are governed by forces larger than themselves.

Both of these masks by Mossi artists portray a being that combines human and animal characteristics. The tall, plank-like mask suggests a human-antelope hybrid, while the horizontal mask has both antelope and birdlike features.

Most Mossi masks symbolically depict totemic animals associated with particular clans. Each family has an animal with which it has mythological connections and which protects it from harm. Such masks would appear at the funerals of important family members, a moment loaded with personal, community, and spiritual significance. At the end of their own active lives, masks might go on to second lives as altars, providing connection to the spirits of commemorated ancestors.
CULTURE Mossi
MEDIUM Wood, paint, resinous material
  • Place Made: Africa
  • DATES late 19th or early 20th century
    DIMENSIONS 6 1/2 x 5 x 21 1/4 in. (16.5 x 15.2 x 54 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 73.179.6
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Gaston T. de Havenon
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Mossi. Wan-pesego Mask, late 19th or early 20th century. Wood, paint, resinous material, 6 1/2 x 5 x 21 1/4 in. (16.5 x 15.2 x 54 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Gaston T. de Havenon, 73.179.6. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 73.179.6_edited_version.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 73.179.6_edited_version.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Wooden helmet mask with bird shaped beak and two antelope-like horns that are curved. The mask has painted and incised geometric decorations in white, red and black. There are drill holes along the rim of the mask for attachments. Condition: generally good, with signs of wear, chipped paint, discoloration. Two side "ear" pieces appear broken off.
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