Tribal art > African mask > Mende mask
Mende Bundu Sowei mask (N° 20912)
The sowei form an idealized representation of female beauty as seen through the lens of Mende culture. Carved by men and worn by women, they embody water spirits. This African Mende mask is an example of the type of masks named bundu most important among the Mende. It has a high domed forehead occupying the upper half of the face, with the features concentrated in the lower area. The thick rings of the neck and nape are associated with an abundance of flesh, symbolizing prosperity.
Painted black or stained with a leaf wash, the mask was then rubbed with palm oil. Smooth satin patina. Erosions at the base.
The Mende, Vaï and Gola cultures of Sierra Leone, Liberia and the west coast of Guinea are known in African art for their helmet masks, particularly those of the female initiation society, Sandé, which prepares young girls for marriage. As for the male society, it is the Poro society.
To close the rituals, a "spirit" appears, wearing this mask decorated with long raffia fibers, and waving a whip in order to chase away malevolent spirits and witches.
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("L 'art africain" Kerchache and "Masques africains de la collection Barbier-Mueller" coll. Adam Biro)
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