Dan Passport Masks of Liberia

dan masks“The Dan people carried small masks (less than 20 cm high) which are sometimes called “passport” masks. Several have two small holes on the top to be worn as amulets. They are sewn onto a piece of cloth and kept in a leather pouch and possibly worn in the small of the back. They are miniature copies of a family mask and sometimes received libations. These apotropaic masks also act as witnesses during initiation ceremonies.”


I found these passport masks to be quite intriguing. With the conventional purpose of a mask being used to falsify ones identity, these masks seemed to go against that premise and were instead being used to prove identity. I didn’t really have time to explore this concept further, as we were soon told we would be making our own. However, I suppose through the very act of making and designing them myself there is bound to be an element of my persona held within the masks that I make.

We were using air drying clay, which I have used once before but I had completely forgotten what it was like. It didn’t seem too different from normal clay but as I began scraping it away, the fibres in the clay became more apparent. Whilst it was quite nice to work with when it came to sculpting and shaping, any detailed work was quickly distorted by these fibres.

At first I was referencing my earlier designs but as time went on I just began playing with the clay; eventually I was just rolling sausage shapes onto the clay and flattening them with a rolling pin to construct the faces. Below are my outcomes;

After allowing the clay to dry over the weekend, the next step will be to paint and decorate them with acrylics.


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