Central Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ituri (also Etori or Uituri) region, ca. early 20th century CE. A delicate, flat, circular carved wood mask of minimalist geometric form and with excellent provenance. The mouth and eyes are carved open, the nose is an elongated slender ridge, and the face exhibits remains of painted details. The sides are pierced and the long plant fiber beard is intact. Comes with custom stand. Size of wood mask: 7.1" W x 9.25" H (18 cm x 23.5 cm); height on stand: 22" (55.9 cm).
In the tropical rainforests of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), in the region known as Ituri, many different ethnic groups create masks that are stylized, known for their flatness, oval form, and open mouths. Many are painted black and white, but some - like this one - are also painted red, indicating that it is from the northern part of the forest. These masks are deceptively simple upon first observation; in reality, there is meaning in every cut, line, and color. They are used in rituals for fertility, to honor ancestors, and to celebrate rites of passage. The lines may represent the markings of an animal whose knowledge of the forest the wearer would gain. The people who created this mask were members of one of the indigenous pygmy groups who live largely as hunter-gatherers in small villages in the rainforest and who are some of the earliest native peoples in the Congo.
The artwork of this area was little known to the outside world before the work of Marc Felix in the 1970s; he wrote the definitive text on these amazing masks, "Ituri: The Distribution Of Polychrome Masks In Northeast Zaire" (1992). Finding an example that predates his work like this one does is extremely rare.
Provenance: Ex-Private New York Collection; Collected in Situ before 1938; Ex-Private Collection Paris; Ex-Pace Primitive inv 53-0631; Yale-GVR archive no. 0058076-01
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