Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Western Pende, ca. early to mid 20th century CE. A fascinating mbangu (sickness) mask, carved from wood and painted black and white so as to bisect the distorted face. The visage presents heavy lidded downcast eyes (with openings for the user), a twisted nose, and an open mouth dramatically angled to the left. A skillfully woven raffia headdress and burlap collar further embellish the mask. Although for most African works the color white traditionally symbolizes the spirits of the deceased, in this case it is used to symbolize hope for a cure, and the black symbolizes illness. Furthermore, this use of black and white represents the constant conflicts and struggles between good and evil throughout life. Size: 11" H (27.9 cm); 13.625" H (34.6 cm) on included custom stand.
In Africa, most believe that disease is a form of punishment brought about by offending the ancestral spirits. In addition, disease is associated with sorcery. Some believe that the mbangu mask represents a respected hunter who has been struck by facial paralysis or epilepsy - the lesson being that even esteemed members of society such as hunters can be afflicted with illness due to ethical missteps. Masks like this are used to teach people about the consequences of poor behavior and moral pitfalls.
Provenance: private Eason Eige collection, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
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