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Bruce Frank Primitive Art
New York City, NY
+1 917 733 9589

Very rare, miniature Shrine Mask

Bassa tribe, Liberia
19th-early 20th century

Provenance:  James Willis Gallery, San Francisco. American collection, acquired from above in the 1970’s, by descent to family member.

Bassa Helmet masks are very scarce; most collectors are more familiar with the Bundu masks created by the Mende.  Miniature examples are even rarer.  This example was never worn, instead it was created to be part of a sacred shrine, whether personal or collective, this miniature mask was fed regularly to remain strong and able to help its owners.  Food may be simply set before it, or the offering, such as rice or oil, may be rubbed or poured onto it. On special occasions a sacrificed chicken’s blood is spilled onto the mask.  Its dark and deep patina attests to the numerous ritual libations it received.  The sculpture is strong and compelling, the face is angular and diamond shaped, and its mouth is open and extended, as if it’s calling out to the spirit world.

Very rare, miniature Shrine Mask

Bassa tribe, Liberia
19th-early 20th century

Provenance:  James Willis Gallery, San Francisco. American collection, acquired from above in the 1970’s, by descent to family member.

Bassa Helmet masks are very scarce; most collectors are more familiar with the Bundu masks created by the Mende.  Miniature examples are even rarer.  This example was never worn, instead it was created to be part of a sacred shrine, whether personal or collective, this miniature mask was fed regularly to remain strong and able to help its owners.  Food may be simply set before it, or the offering, such as rice or oil, may be rubbed or poured onto it. On special occasions a sacrificed chicken’s blood is spilled onto the mask.  Its dark and deep patina attests to the numerous ritual libations it received.  The sculpture is strong and compelling, the face is angular and diamond shaped, and its mouth is open and extended, as if it’s calling out to the spirit world.

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