Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Woyo, ca. early 20th century CE. A hand carved and hand painted wooden mask of the ndunga, a male society of the Woyo peoples whose dances commemorate a range of significant community events such as the installation of tribal elders, festive celebrations, funerals, or grave danger. Ndunga masks are typically quite large in scale, as we see in this example. Usually such masks are worn with a grand costume of a voluminous nature (in relative proportion to the mask's size) that is comprised of dried banana leaves which completely cover the performer's body. Most ndunga masks are adorned with elaborate geometric motifs in a polychrome color scheme ; however, a few like this one are more minimalist in spirit and primarily painted white. The white hue is highly symbolic for the Woyo, as white is associated with power and spiritual presence. Certain elements of Woyo masks such as the intriguing contrast between abstract and naturalistic features and filed teeth show the influence of Kongo neighbors. However, the Woyo stylistic contribution is unmistakable here; particularly exemplified by those copious eyebeds that house elegant, almond shaped eyeholes, that prominent central crest on the forehead that continues to the long, aquiline nose, and the triangular jawline. Holes at the periphery for attachment of ornament and costume were created by the artisan. A fabulous example with beautiful patina. Size: 9" W x 15" H (22.9 cm x 38.1 cm)
Provenance: Ex-Merton Simpson Gallery, NYC, NY in 1973.
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