Democratic Republic of Congo, Early 20th century

Provenance: From a private collection, United Kingdom

The mask is recognised by an opposition of black and white that bisects the face and a general distortion of facial features specifically the twisted nose and mouth. The colour white, symbolic of the spirits of the dead, in this case represents the hope of being cured of illness. The black pigment stands for the sickness and illness that ravages one throughout life. The combination of black against white symbolises this struggle. It is very rare in Africa to find any work of art that depicts an individual stricken by sickness,infirmity or any type of disease. It is believed that disease can be brought about by an act offending spirits of ancestors and is often viewed as a punishment. Thus, many objects showing disease are used to instruct the community and to caution against destructive behaviour. This is especially true of masks, which are danced to teach or remind members of the community about rules and responsibilities. A selection of Nigerian Ibibio and Congolese Pende masks underline 
the connection between disease and moral values.

The mbangu mask is a variation on the representation of a highly regarded hunter who has been stricken with facial paralysis. It demonstrates how even the most esteemed and upright member of the community can unexpectedly be afflicted with sickness. In this case, the Pende believe that the individual is a victim of sorcery, bewitched by a rival who jealously inflicted him with disease. This mask teaches Pende audiences about the rewards of good behaviour and of the pitfalls of those who are morally flawed. 

Dimensions: H cm x W cm x D cm

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