Man Spirit Mask

Willie Cole (American, born in 1955)


Platemark: 99.4 x 67.3 cm (39 1/8 x 26 1/2 in.) Sheet: 99.4 x 67.3 cm (39 1/8 x 26 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Photo etching printed in brown, with embossing and hand coloring (left panel of triptych)

Not On View


Americas, Contemporary Art, Prints and Drawings



The iron holds a complex network of meanings for Willie Cole, recalling the domestic servitude of many African American women (Cole’s mother and grandmother both worked as housekeepers), but also referring through its shape to slave ships and African tribal art. Here he superimposes the pattern of holes from a steam iron over his own self-portrait, alluding to the ritualistic tattooing and scarification of tribal culture as well as the branding of slaves. The spectral image in the central panel was screenprinted onto handmade paper with lemon juice which turned brown under the application of a heat gun. Cole’s self-portrait appears again in the right panel, inverted and obscured by an iron wondrously transformed into an African mask.


Alexander and Bonin, New York; 2005, sold by Alexander and Bonin to the MFA. (Accession date: April 27, 2005)

Credit Line

Lee M. Friedman Fund


© Willie Cole