The mask depicted was made by the Baule peoples of the Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa. The mask is similar to the required work of art called the Portrait Mask (Mblo) of Moya Yanso. The mask was created in the early 20th century C.
E. and was made of wood, brass, and pigment. The portrait mask of Moya Yanso was carved by Owie Kimou, an artist in the Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. Both of the masks are the same style type, Mblo. Because of this, they share the same features that were common to the mask traditions of the Baule peoples. These similarities include high foreheads; arched brows; heavy-lidded, sad eyes; narrow, lengthened triangular nose; small, open mouth; stylized, elongated faces; decorative extensions above the head; raised areas to indicate facial scarring; and, textural and linear treatment of the hair. Mblo masks represent a specific honored individual, often a woman.
Both women and men can be portrayed with different extensions above the head. However, both women and men are featured with sad eyes, symbolizing an idealized inner beauty, peaceful self-analysis, wisdom, and high moral status. The Mblo mask in the required course content depicts the dancer Moya Yanso, and it was commissioned by her husband. Although it is not known who the mask represents, the identification as an Mblo mask signifies it is an idealized portrait of a respected person. The representation of a beard on this mask demonstrates the naturalism indicating a male identity. It does not necessarily mean the mask illustrates a man because beards were illustrated on both male and female.
During events of civic importance, Mblo masks were worn and danced as part of worldly entertainment. Mblo dances are called Gbabba. The masks were danced by men related to the honoree, usually a spouse or a son. The masks were accompanied by the honoree or a representative chosen by the person depicted. The mask of Moya Yanso was danced first by her husband and then by her sons, and accompanied by Moya Yanso. Then when Moya Yanso could not physically assume the role, her granddaughter would go in her place. When not in use, Mblo masks were kept hidden.
When the masks appeared, it was at the end of a series of masked dances. Their appearance was the highlight of the ceremony. Mblo masks were kept hidden to increase the drama and the audience’s appreciation for the masks.
The act of hiding the Mblo mask was essential for the experience of the mask. Mblo masks were part of a larger group of textiles and cloth when they were worn while dancing. It served to limit the visibility of the mask. The duration of these performances tended to be short, and then the performer made a quick exit, making the audience want more. The performance of Mblo masks was intended to confirm community ideals of human beauty and artistic accomplishment.