Dan Tribe sculpture

by Dr. Lori Verderame

The African art on display here ranges from utilitarian objects to ceremonial pieces. These works were produced by sculptors living in the West African regions of Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Ghana. The pieces speak to the ritualistic beliefs of various African peoples and most of these works of art were produced by members of the Senufo, Dan, Ashanti, Mossi, and Fanti tribes. A personal passport mask, like the one shown above, circa 1960 is from the Dan people of West Africa and it is made of carved wood and raffia.


The personal passport mask is used for personal protection and used in ritual. Appropriately sized for transport, the mask is intended to protect the owner during travel. This miniature passport mask would be either carried by the owner or worn on the arm or around the neck as an amulet. This piece is a combination of a strong sculptural design for the face as a mask and the use of symbolic raffia.

Dan tribe sculptureThis elongated sculptural form is comprised of two highly detailed figures that are gracefully intertwined. A product of the Senufo tribe of West Africa, this piece is carved in ebony wood. The two forms become one as the figural compositions relate to each other. This formal treatment in African sculpture is common showing the close relationship of the Africans.

The highly skilled African carvers of the Senufo tribe produce such pieces for personal and ritual shrines. The two figures evoke emotion and balance. The extension of the leg and the opposite arm which holds together this pair’s sculptural form are enhanced by the length of the overall piece. Many western carvers in the modern era looked to the interlocking figures of African art for  influence including masters, Picasso and Matisse.

Major collections of African art with related examples include: The National Museum of African Art, The Art Gallery-Princeton University, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Request an online appraisal of your African piece from Dr. Lori.