Face Mask (Kpeliye'e)

Date: 19th–mid-20th century

Geography: Côte d'Ivoire, northern Côte d'Ivoire, Korhogo region (?)

Culture: Senufo peoples

Medium: Wood

Dimensions: H. 15 3/16 x W. 6 x D. 3 3/4 in. (38.7 x 15.2 x 9.5 cm)

Classification: Wood-Sculpture

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.216


Finely carved face masks were popular in northern Côte d'Ivoire by the early twentieth century. The Belgian art historian Albert Maesen collected a mask comparable to this one when he did fieldwork on Senufo arts in northern Côte d'Ivoire just before the outbreak of World War II. Maesen identified the form as kulié, or "face of the dead." He observed that families owned kulié masks and used them in public dances during agricultural celebrations and funerary ceremonies. Poro associations then also maintained similar face masks to honor deceased members in performances restricted to men. Maesen contrasted the restrained movements of the masqueraders at the events open to all to the more energetic dance of the poro masks in front of select audiences. Sculptors in the region carved face masks throughout the twentieth century. The term kpeliye'e, or "face of the jumping performer," refers to the dynamic performances audiences have continued to associate with the mask. Often centerpieces of entertaining theaters, face masks offer a counterpoint to the region's larger, more combative zoomorphic helmet masks.