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VALLEY 19th and 20th Century African Art: Portrait Mask (Mblo)

Analysis of the Bundu Mask


Portrait Mask (Mblo). Baule peoples (côte d'Ivoire). Early 20th century C. E. Wood and pigment. 


Cultural and/or historical influences

-The work of art was completed in the early 1900's. The Chowke Civilization (the civilization where the mask came from) heavily believed in masquerade dances. Masquerades were actual a popular form of entertainment.


Does the work conforms to the artistic norms of the time?

-It sure does! This piece conformed to the artistic norms of aesthetic beauty (because of the way the hair is depicted).


What impact does this work have in the Chokwe civilization? 

-Masks such as this one entertained those who took part in watching a mblo dance.


Who or what's being depicted? 

Moya Yanso, an excellent dancer, is being depicted in this mask. However, her oval face, open mouth, downcast slit eyes and protrusion above the brow bone suggest that she is being depicted in an animalistic way.  

Popular themes that coincide with this mask are: 

-The appraisal of women 

-Cultures and traditions

What kind of symbolism is there? 

-Scarification patterns at the temple and a high gloss on the wood mask symbolize respectable and honorable nature that one may have when in Moya's presence. 

Does this mask take after any artistic qualities? 

-Yes it does! In some aspect the subject matter is being idealized because the artist gave it certain aestheic qualities that were quite popular at the time the mask was made. But at the same time, the subject matter is being abstracted because of the hairstyle that had been reduced to simple shapes. 



Map Image

Works Cited/ Resources


Materials used: 




How does someone make a mask like this? 

-It's pretty straight forward. Essentially, carve what you want to carve. Then add any other accouterments (such as brass and pigment). Lastly, finish off the wood it a polished finish! 

What are some visual or physical elements of the art? 

-There is an abundance of vertical and curved line (between the patterns and straightness of the nose and sides of the face). The variety in these types of lined patterns make for an interesting piece that leads the eye all around it. 



Who in their right mind would make such a mask?!

To start off, this mask was made in honor of Moya Yasno—an excellent dancer. It was believed that this mask is what kept her impressive dancing spirit alive. It was also believed that the physical presence of such masks opened the gateways from the spiritual world to the world of the living 

The creator and the commissioner: 

Moya Yasno commissioned the piece. Okie Kimou was the artist. 

Where would you find this beauty? 

Usually, in masquerade dances, dancers would wear cloth costumes to conceal their faces. During this a line of drummers, singers and orators would entertain an audience. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WAS THIS MASK TO BE PUT ON A WALL IN A STATIC ENVIRONMENT. 



Mblo- a traditional masquerade dance 

Gbabga- a parody of said masquerade dance 

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