Lot 5
  • 5

Dogon or Mossi Mask, Mali

15,000 - 25,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood
  • Height: 46 in (117 cm)


Galerie Kamer, New York
Arthur Cohen & Elaine Lustig Cohen, New York, acquired from the above on June 10, 1966


The Museum of Modern Art, New York, "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, September 27, 1984 - January 15, 1985


William Rubin, ed., "Primitivism” in 20th Century Art:  Affinities of the Tribal and the Modern, New York, 1984, p. 365
William Rubin, ed., Le Primitivisme dans l’art du 20e siècle. Les artistes modernes devant l’art tribal, Paris, 1987, p. 365

Catalogue Note

Because Mossi society finds its genesis in the intermingling of various ethnic groups in present-day Burkina Faso, its people have come to span a vast geographic area, yet they are rather heterogeneous in their origins and practices. The subjects of Mossi masks generally depict humans and animal characters in totemic form; here, the Cohen Mossi Mask signifies a large antelope and is exemplary of the Risiam style.

Roy believes that masks of this style were produced by either a carver or a “school” of carvers that resides by the northern Upper White Volta River (Roy, Art of the Upper Volta Rivers, 1987, p. 131). Characteristically, these masks are convex and sport a prominent ridge with triangular notches down the center of their faces. The ridge on the Cohen Mossi Mask draws the eye seamlessly upwards along the dramatic yet elegant superstructure that represents the antelope’s horns. On the face of the mask, traces remain of the emblematic red, white, and black pigments that form striking geometric patterns and shapes. Mossi tribes used these masks in rituals to call for a plentiful harvest season with abundant rain, as well as for the overall security and growth of the community.

The arresting aesthetic of Mossi masks is not confined to its origins in Africa, however, as its influence has also seeped into the cultural consciousness of Western artists. Along with many other key examples of African art, the Cohen Mossi Mask was featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal 1984 exhibition, "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art. The exhibition’s catalogue highlights the artistic inspiration of the Mossi mask, drawing a direct link to the oeuvre of Constantin Brancusi (see Geist’s chapter on Brancusi in Rubin, ed., "Primitivism", vol. 2). Works of the Romanian sculptor, such as the meditative Bird in Space (1932–40), reach an artistic affinity with the Mossi mask’s sumptuous arc and graceful geometry, as well as with the abstractions of other African pieces also included in the exhibition.