**Originally Listed At $600**
West Africa, Nigeria, northeastern Igbo, early mid-20th century CE. A hand-carved and hand-painted wooden Maiden Spirit (Agbohbho mmwo) helmet mask with delicate, balanced facial features, an elaborate hairstyle, and stylized tattoos and/or scarification marks that idealize the qualities of youthful females. The Igbo are best known for these Maiden Spirit masks which are danced by men at agricultural festivals as well as funerals of important members of the village, intended to capture the purity, youth, grace, and beauty of deceased maidens. These men who dance the agbogho mmwo masks also traditionally wear colorful fiber costumes to entertain with performances featuring exaggerated versions of traditional women's dances. Size: 10.5" deep x 9.125" W x 23.75" H (26.7 cm x 23.2 cm x 60.3 cm)
This mask is quite striking with its beautiful visage comprised of a long, narrow face, painted white to symbolize the spirit of the deceased , a narrow protruding nose, slit eyes, openwork circles on the cheeks, small ears, an open mouth with delineated teeth, and various tattoo/scarification marks including the black painted raised star-like form on her forehead flanked by vertical rows of raised circles as well as the the painted blue vertical striations beneath her eyes. Adding to the dramatic effect of this mask is an elaborate coiffure featuring spiraled curls, some carved in low relief and three in high relief - topped by an even more elaborate openwork construction in red, white, blue, and black-brown, comprised of a pair of intricately delineated arched forms surrounding a lower central ridge that connects to the flanking higher pieces with ovoid forms. Each arched side element houses complex openwork geometric designs. All the ridges present cup-like projections, some that are inlaid with mirrors, at their perimeters.
The Igbo use a great variety - literally thousands - of masks, which represent and incarnate unspecified spirits or the deceased, forming an extensive community of souls. Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of the many Igbo masks is their coloring; usually featuring chalk white to symbolize the color of the spirit. Masked dancers traditionally wore extremely elaborate costumes, some also ornamented with mirrors that reflect light when in movement, and often their feet and hands were covered. With their masks, the Igbo have a penchant for contrasting beauty and bestiality, the feminine and the masculine, black and white. The masks are featured in a variety of dramas: sacred rituals (for ancestors and invocation of the gods), social satires, initiation rites, and public festivals.
Provenance: ex-Adeon Gallery, Chicago, IL, USA acquired prior to 1970.
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