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Baule Mblo mask

Baule Mblo mask
Baule Mblo maskBaule Mblo maskBaule Mblo maskBaule Mblo mask
Tribe: Baule
Country: Ivory Coast
Ritual: Entertainment
Name: Mblo
Materials: Wood, fabric, nails
Provenance: Coll. Moulaye Lebass Sanogo. Andrew Turley, Bamako Mali, 2007
Comments: This small mask (23cm) is very delicate. I found it hidden behind a large pile of good quality African material stored in Bamako. It has well worn attachment holes, bound and wrapped fabric linking the coiffure to the body of the mask, attached under the chin leading me to estimate its age at circa 1950.

Baule carvers produce numerous works and carvers are still very active today producing masks, statues and everyday objects. This mask is characteristic of Baule work with realistic features, pointed chin, T-shaped nose, semi-circular eyes, raised scarification and an elaborate coiffure.

According to Susan Vogel, Mblo is the name of a performance category that uses face masks in skits and solo dances; it describes a structured form of performance that individuals have used to create many different 'scripts' with different names – for example Kpan Kpan is a new mblo dance; the name means 'thunder'.

Mblo are small face masks of humans, animals or phenomena.. Masks are also called mblo ba (ba = small part). Women can participate in these dances and masks are kept out of sight between dances, stored in the village.

Although this mask shares many aesthetic similarities to Kpan masks (the swinging curves of the coiffure, straight nose, wrapped beard) and does not have the typical ornaments above the face, I believe that because of its small size (22 cm) it is most likely a portrait mask.

The refined human face masks (portrait masks) that make up a part of the Mblo group are associated with the dances for entertainment purposes and they are usually the portraits of particular known individuals. Through the 20 th century these masks have been made in greater numbers than any other Baule mask.

The idealized faces are introspective, with the high foreheads of intellectual enlightenment, large downcast eyes of respectful presence in the world and a pouting mouth that comes forward to create a pensive beauty.

"The Mblo mask is most beautiful at the moment when it dances with the cloths and everything; that is the time to see it. When you take off the cloth, it is less beautiful….when it is alone it is beautiful, but when it is dressed and it comes out and it dances like a woman – that is the way it should be". (Kami, 1996: Susan Vogel. African Art Western Eyes).


  1. African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
  2. The Tribal Arts of Africa, J.B. Bacquart. 1998.
  3. A History of African Art, Harry. N. Abrams Inc Publisher NY 2001.
  4. Masks of Black Africa. Ladislas Segy. 1976.
  5. Susan Vogel. African Art Western Eyes. 1996.