Skip Navigation

Wan-pesego Mask

Arts of Africa

Becoming Another

The play associated with masquerade can lead to the invention of new types of identities and new hybrid, not-quite-human masked beings. Moments of passage—into or out of this world, through birth or death, or from childhood to adulthood—bring with them the potential for disorder. Masquerade can offer a vision of transcendence, suggesting that such concerns belong to a world beyond limited human understanding. By transforming its participants into nonhuman beings, masquerade performance transcends everyday human reality and reminds all involved that their immediate concerns are governed by forces larger than themselves.

Both of these masks by Mossi artists portray a being that combines human and animal characteristics. The tall, plank-like mask suggests a human-antelope hybrid, while the horizontal mask has both antelope and birdlike features.

Most Mossi masks symbolically depict totemic animals associated with particular clans. Each family has an animal with which it has mythological connections and which protects it from harm. Such masks would appear at the funerals of important family members, a moment loaded with personal, community, and spiritual significance. At the end of their own active lives, masks might go on to second lives as altars, providing connection to the spirits of commemorated ancestors.
MEDIUM Wood, paint, resinous material
  • Place Made: Burkina Faso
  • DATES late 19th or early 20th century
    DIMENSIONS 6 1/2 x 5 x 21 1/4 in. (16.5 x 15.2 x 54 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Gaston T. de Havenon
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Wooden helmet mask with bird shaped beak and two antelope-like horns that are curved. The mask has painted and incised geometric decorations in white, red and black. There are drill holes along the rim of the mask for attachments. Condition: generally good, with signs of wear, chipped paint, discoloration. Two side "ear" pieces appear broken off.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Mossi. Wan-pesego Mask, late 19th or early 20th century. Wood, paint, resinous material, 6 1/2 x 5 x 21 1/4 in. (16.5 x 15.2 x 54 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Gaston T. de Havenon, 73.179.6. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 73.179.6_edited_version.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 73.179.6_edited_version.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
    You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply. Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please fill out our online application form (charges apply). For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch. For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright. If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact
    Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.