African art > African mask, tribal art, primitive art > Mende mask
In African art, sowei masks, a feminine ideal in Mende culture, embody aquatic spirits. This janiform mask forms an example of the most important type of mask called bundu among the Mendé. The face is concentrated in the lower part, while a high braided, mitre-like hairstyle rises. The face seems encased in a neck where the folds represent an abundance of flesh, a symbol of prosperity.
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Painted black or tinted with a leaf wash, the mask was then rubbed with palm oil.
Velvety matte patina, abrasions and desication cracks.br>
The Mende, Vai and Gola cultures of Sierra Leone, Liberia and the west coast of Guinea are known for the helmet masks of the female initiation society Sandé which prepares young girls for the marriage . The male society is the Poro society.
Relatively rare in sub-Saharan Africa, these masks are made by men and worn by women.
To close the rituals, a "spirit" appears, wearing this mask lined with long fibers of raffia, and waving a whip in order to chase away malevolent spirits and sorcerers.
("African art" Kerchache and "African masks from the Barbier-Mueller collection" coll. Adam Biro)
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