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University Museum Collections Collection stories

Masks

Masks

Masks like these are an essential part of the culture of the We, a people that lived in Ivory Coast and Liberia.

Just like this so-called judge mask, most African masks are connected to special spirits or ancestors. They were worn during fertility dances or ritual ceremonies like administering justice. The mask allowed the supernatural beings to take part in village life.

The mask is part of the extensive ethnological collection of the University of Groningen, the core of which was compiled by Theo van Baaren. This theologian and anthropologist understood that the people he called ‘scriptless’ often communicated religious concepts through art.

Notable is the fact that Van Baaren was not only a scientist, but also a surrealistic artist. Especially in the objects from Western and Central Africa, he must have found what he was looking for. Their extraordinary design shows an ‘unexpected view’ of reality. The African masks in these two cabinets are great examples of this.

The scientist Van Baaren collected as much information as he could about the objects he obtained. In 1964 he started a documentation system of religious symbols and representation that became famous: the Institute for the Documentation of Historical Religious Imagery. Sadly, when Van Baaren retired, the project came to a halt. The extensive card index system has been stored in the storage rooms of the museum, together with thousands of slides.

Last modified:25 September 2019 3.13 p.m.
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