About this artwork
Wooden masks whitened with kaolin have been common among the Ashiru, Punu, Lumbo and neighboring groups in south and south central Gabon and the southwestern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the late 19th century. Known as mukudj, these masks appear in masquerades during funeral celebrations and other events of importance to the community. The masked male dancers, wearing a fiber costume over stilts, perform a variety of movements and acrobatics requiring extensive training.
This mask is defined by an elaborate and highly stylized bi-lobed coiffure, painted black, which frames an idealized female face. The face is painted white with kaolin, which both references the earthly beauty of the woman represented and symbolizes the spirits of past ancestors. The diamond-shaped scarification marks on the forehead and the square-shaped marks on the temples emphasize the perfect, symmetrical beauty of the face, with its dramatically arched eyebrows, almond-shaped slit eyes, small ears, delicate nose, and slightly protruding mouth and chin. Mukudj masks became extremely popular among European art collectors during the 1920s and 1930s, as their aestheticized and abstract attributes intersected with the ideals of modern art. Today the Punu especially embrace the mukudj mask as a sign of ethnic identity, thus often displaying them within their private domestic spaces and incorporating them into a host of celebrations and communal events.
- Currently Off View
- Arts of Africa
- Mask (Mukudj)
- Wood, kaolin, raffia, and nails
- H. 26 cm (10 1/4 in.)
- African and Amerindian Art Purchase Fund