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Face mask (ñgontang)

Arts of Africa

This Fang mask is called ñgontang. While the term means “face of the white woman,” ñgontang masks can depict either male or female spirits. Such masks emerged in response to the changing late nineteenth-century political climate in Africa. The kaolin may suggest white European skin, but it also recalls previous white masks that depicted wild, animal-like forces. Early in the colonial period, Westerners and supernatural beings were conflated with negative, disruptive spirits and linked to the color white. Viewing a ñgontang mask like this one transformed Picasso’s art in 1906. However, he was unaware that the mask he admired was a lookalike modern artwork made for sale to foreigners (see photo). In contrast, the Brooklyn Museum’s mask was used, likely in an effort by Fang owners to reclaim their society by controlling European colonizers’ spiritual power.
MEDIUM Wood, kaolin, pigment
  • Place Made: Gabon
  • DATES late 19th century
    DIMENSIONS 11 1/8 x 7 x 2 1/4 in. (28.3 x 17.8 x 5.7 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 2011.4.6
    CREDIT LINE Collection of Beatrice Riese
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Fang (Betsi subgroup) artist. Face mask (ñgontang), late 19th century. Wood, kaolin, pigment, 11 1/8 x 7 x 2 1/4 in. (28.3 x 17.8 x 5.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Collection of Beatrice Riese, 2011.4.6. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2011.4.6_SL1_edited.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 2011.4.6_SL1_edited.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Colored male face mask with carved coiffure, scalloped design above forehead, small pierced eyes, simple flat curved nose, and carved teeth. Much of white clay pigment has been abraded.
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