Baga D’mba Mask, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, Old Belgian Collection.

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Baga D’mba Mask, Specifications:  81.5 x 24 x 26 cm Origin: Guinea and Guinea-Bissau (see ethnographic notes below) Medium: Timber Carving & Pigment. Provenance: Charles-Louis Manteau, Brussels, 1938, thence by desent to his daughter, Jaqueline Manteau in Chamonix 1960's then Frederick W Wilson Collection, Melbourne from 1990.
Context:The D’mba mask is a performance piece worn on the head and shoulders of a young male masquerader of the Baga people to accompany ceremonial dances. In masquerade, the dancer typically wears a full raffia palm-fiber skirt, with a long indigo-dyed cloth wrapped around the figure’s torso, just under the breasts. The dancer holds the mask by the front legs and looks through small eye holes between D’mba’s breasts.  The mask is normally worn for special occasions such as marriages, funerals and harvest celebrations.


The D’mba mask portrays a mature woman, an icon of motherhood. During wedding festivities in particular, this role of women is exalted, “so that the new spouses will choose the good path.” As the dance is only performed during the day, art historian Fred Lamp speculates that this may be due to an iconic association of D’mba with light and goodness. D’mba exemplifies ideal femininity through her coiffure, adornment, dress, and devotion to nurturing her children.  Although other types of masks made by the Baga are typically viewed as spirits or deities, D’mba portrays the ‘idea’ of motherhood, representing a mother who bore and nursed many children. For example, her flattened breasts represent the “selfless dedication with which she has nursed numerous children to adulthood.  With her elegant hairstyle, “…cosmetically refined with continual polishing with oil before each appearance, she presented the villagers with an inspiring image of nobility and prosperity.” Young women derived the strength to bear and nurture children from her.