The African mask is not conceived as a work of art (artistic object). Susan Vogel, while describing how her Baule friends react to the objects that are important to them, says : "Art cannot be described from a Baule point of view at all, simply because their view does not include 'art' in the western sense of the word" (Vogel, 1997, 17). The mask is conceived to trigger among its audience, depending on the cases, a feeling of respect, fear, terror, courage, etc.
Usually we use our own culture's esthetics to judge whether or not art is beautiful. Specifically, when we encounter an African mask, we look at it in our habitual manner. For example, we would describe a Baule mask as being nice/beautiful because its lines and style go with our sense of "esthetic" beauty. On the other hand, we would describe a Dan mask as being ugly, because it expresses a deformed vision of the human face. In fact, African carvers have been considered a "founding stone" of expressionism and modern art. When contemplating certain masks like the Bomileke of Cameroon, we automatically think: "This is Picasso." In reality, it was Picasso who was influenced by African art.
The African mask is not an inert object, which is the case of the ones that are displayed in museums like pinned butterflies in glass cases. In its African context, the mask is alive. It is a part of a whole, a costume and headdress worn by a lively and energetic man who speaks and dances and performs astonishing acrobatic movements. This man/wearer is surrounded by his interpreter, singers, musicians and others performing in front of a big audience in a magical / extraordinary ambience of mysticism, trance ….
The mask does not participate in acts of witchcraft, except in the case of some individuals who try to use the power of a mask in such acts. On the contrary, the mask is an instrument of social harmony. Some masks are even used specifically to uncover the deeds of witches.
The African mask is not a thing of the past. We may think that modern civilization would affect this ancestral custom. On the contrary, we witness an expansion of the mask in some countries. In the case of the Ivory Coast, the two main places of origin of masks are the south west ( the We and Dan people ) and the north ( the Senufo people). Over the centuries, the custom of the mask reached the neighboring peoples ( Bété, Guro and Baule ). Reciprocal influences were many, to the point that we don't know whether some Guro masks are of Baule influence or vice-versa. For the "Bété" people, the mask is only about 45/50 years. It started more as an artistic way of expression than a religious one.