African art > African mask, tribal art, primitive art > Mende mask
Mende Sowei mask (N° 18343)
In African art, sowei form an idealized representation of female beauty through the Mende culture. They embody the water spirits. This cephalomorphic mask forms an example of the type of masks named bundu most important among the Mende. The face is encased in a thick ringed neck whose abundance of flesh symbolizes prosperity.
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Painted black or stained with a leaf wash, the mask was then rubbed with palm oil.
Semi-satin patina, weak indigo residue, abrasions.
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.
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 raffia fibers, and waving a whip in order to chase away malevolent spirits and witches.
("L 'art africain" Kerchache and "Masques africains de la collection Barbier-Mueller" coll. Adam Biro; https://gaz.wiki/wiki/fr/Mende_people)
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