African designs, £9.99
Height: 142.000 cm
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Songye, 19th century
From the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)
Mask carvers of Africa have developed many kinds of imaginative spirits in various materials such as wood, skins, cloth, beads, fibre and metal which are combined in a number of ways. The selection of media often has local significance, thus enhancing the visual symbolism of the mask and costume.
This wooden mask has a fibre fringe or 'beard' and three fur horns. It was worn by the wichi or ritual specialist, and would have been put on and removed in complete secrecy. Its precise function is not known, but it may have been to discourage unruly behaviour. It was associated with the bwadi society that formerly exercised judicial powers and were present at the installation and initiation of chiefs. Its various elements are drawn from a whole range of wild creatures brought together in a single form.
T. Phillips (ed.), Africa, the art of a continent (London, Royal Academy, 1995)