19th Century Bwa Mask Burkina Faso Mounted on Custom Black Enamel Stand

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This compelling piece is a ceremonial mask worn by the Bwa peoples of Burkina Faso during funereal processions, coming of age initiation rituals, and seasonal agricultural festivities. It represents a particularly stunning example of African masks from this period. Realized from silk wood (ceiba)- a soft and fine grained timber equivalent to an African pine- the mask features an abundance of geometric shapes incised into the anthropomorphic and animal inspired forms. The mask, resembling a human face exaggerated features to the point of abstraction (a protruding nose resembling a fish fin, oversized crest-like forms recalling architectural rabbit ears). The piece offers tones of burnt sienna, taupe, and creme.

Traditionally, the Bwa peoples soak these masks in local rivers (weighed down by stones) for several weeks each season to make them less susceptible to insect damage. The red and white toned pigments (naturally derived from local plants) are washed away and reapplied seasonally by newly initiated tribe members, leaving only the black pigment that accrues from year to year as a record of the object's age. The heavy accretions of black paint- suggesting an Art Brut impasto- on the eyes of this mask clearly testify to its antique age, and storied spiritual life.

With its bold cubist forms, this piece illustrates, in no uncertain terms, the influence of African Art on the advent of Modern Art in the West (from Picasso to Modigliani and Giacometti). This is unquestionably a museum-quality piece that is a great find for any collector of African Art, or really anyone with an appreciation of rare and exquisite objects. It comes presented on an austere black enameled steel base. Excellent vintage condition.

Burkina Faso, Africa, Circa 1850

The estate of Maxine Pines

14"D X 9.75"W X 29"H


  • Wear
    Wear consistent with age and use
  • Dimensions
    29 in. H x 9.75 in. W x 14 in. D
    74 cm H x 25 cm W x 36 cm D
  • Seller Location
    New York, NY
  • Number of Items
  • Reference Number
About the Seller

1stdibs seller since 2004

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Located in New York, NY

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