Traditionally Dogon masks are controlled by the Awa society, a group of predominantly male initiates who conduct the public rites that insure the transition of the dead into the spirit world. A large number of masks participate in Dogon funerary rites and the dama, a celebration at the end of mourning. The masks also appear in the sigui, a celebration held only every 60 years to mark the change in generations. Now they also appear for travel programs for tourists.
There are more than 70 different Dogon masks, which can be grouped according to medium, whether fiber or wood; subject, whether animal, human or abstract; and character, whether predatory or nonpredatory. This wood mask is a nonpredatory box form with pointed ears. Its abstract form is subject to many interpretations, most refer to a bird or a female spirit. In Dogon belief the symbolism of form and numerology, as well as the dance movement and costume generally refer to female qualities.
Known as a kanaga mask, it appears several at a time. Each dancer swings the mask in a figure 8, touching the ground with the top of the superstructure.
Wood face mask with double cross superstructure, additional pieces at crossbar ends go up on top one, down on lower. Face is abstract and geometric. White, black, red pigments.
Emil Arnold, New York, -- to 1968
African Cosmos: Stellar Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 20-December 9, 2012; Newark Museum, February 26-August 11, 2013; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, August 23-November 30, 2014; Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta, January 31-June 21, 2015 (exhibited at NMAfA and Carlos Museum)
Playful Performers, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 9-December 12, 2004
African Art in Color, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., May 17-October 9, 1983
Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual, Renwick Gallery, Washington D.C., March 17, 1982-July 10, 1983
Life...Afterlife: African Funerary Sculpture, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 1981-March 1, 1982
African Sculpture, Princeton University Art Museum, February 2-March 14, 1971, no. 8
The Language of African Art, Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution Fine Arts & Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., May 24-September 7, 1970, no. 7
Museum of African Art. 1970. The Language of African Art, A Guest Exhibition of the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution Fine Arts & Portrait Gallery Building. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, no. 7 (not illustrated).
Museum of African Art. 1971. African Sculpture at Princeton University from the Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: Museum of African Art, p. 5, no. 8.
Smithsonian Institution. Office of Folklife Programs and Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art. 1982. Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 137, no. 178 (not illustrated).