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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Gagon Mask

Photo: Paul Macapia

Gagon Mask


"My name is Won Ldy Paye--I'm from Liberia, I'm a Dan--speaking person. And in order to understand the Dan people, you have to know Gle, which means 'mask.' You see them on different occasions. Why does it structure every Dan's life, every Dan person's culture? Masks are when your real identity dies and becomes something else. So there's no more Won Ldy-Won Ldy dies and becomes something else. The person's real identity is hidden. Gle comes in. When we say gle, we're talking about a different realm of life, where the person dies and takes on a new personality that has nothing to do with his real physical self.

"So we say the Gle Dan is the voice or representation of all our ancestors that have died, and yet survive in hills, trees, or river. These are the only forces that can bring us news from our ancestors. To us, then, the masks have to be structured into society. Are you a mask that entertains, that is warlike, or one that lives your life to be a judicial person?

"When I was young, I dreamed of being chased by masks. My parents thought the way to solve this problem was to introduce Won Ldy to a lot of masks, there's where my interest in masks began. I went to villages trying to see what I could see-wrestling matches, market day with performers-and the dream began to slow down. I explained my dream to George Tabman (a Minister of Culture). He said, 'You're like a traditional scholar. You're going to become a mask-you're going to become an educator.' I thought he was joking. So, when I got older, I took the few masks I had collected and I moved into Monrovia, a melting pot of tribal groups, where there was an abundance of masks. I started working at the Liberian National Culture Center, and began the Children's 'Trou Trou' Artists' Workshop. Masks became a part of my life, and the dream has gone away.

"The Bird mask, which is a little bit below the level or the power of Ge Wree Wree also comes to the village to tell people our kids in the bush school need food. They need more clothing. It's raining too much. We need more roofing over the houses where they are sleeping. So the Bird mask too is an authority figure because it comes and tells people what they need. Sometimes the Bird mask in order to convince the people takes on funny characteristics. He starts to dance or will make fun or will joke. All masks are believed to be spirits that come from the forest." (Won Ldy Paye, 2001)

Wood, cloth, fur, and metal
11 x 10 in. (27.94 x 25.4 cm)
L.: 37 in.
Gift of Mark Groudine and Cynthia Putnam
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, February 7, 2002-April 30, 2006
Published ReferencesMcClusky, Pamela, Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke A Back, Seattle Art Museum, 2002, pg. 191

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