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Likishi Dance Costume Shirt and Head Cover with Pwo Mask

Arts of Africa

This complete dance costume shows how masks are normally one part of a larger ensemble. The mask is sewn directly onto the costume of looped bark and fiber, which fits tightly over the body of the dancer. Seedpod rattles and metal bells added a musical aspect to the performance.

Although they are danced by Luvale men, mwana pwevo masks depict women. In order to own and perform with a mask, a man had to symbolically marry it by paying the carver a copper ring as a bride price. In so doing, the dancer made a commitment to honor and care for the spirit represented by the mask. In return, the dancer was able to earn his livelihood performing at local festivals.
CULTURES Luvale or Chokwe
MEDIUM Fiber, wood, seedpods, hide, metal
  • Place Made: Africa
  • DATES late 19th or early 20th century
    DIMENSIONS 40 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (102.9 x 21.6 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 36.548
    CREDIT LINE Museum Collection Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Luvale. Likishi Dance Costume Shirt and Head Cover with Pwo Mask, late 19th or early 20th century. Fiber, wood, seedpods, hide, metal, 40 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (102.9 x 21.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund, 36.548. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 36.548_36.549_36.550a-b_36.551a-b_36.552_36.553_front_installation_edited_SL1.jpg)
    IMAGE group, 36.548_36.549_36.550a-b_36.551a-b_36.552_36.553_front_installation_edited_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2011
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Dance costume consisting of carved wooden mask, painted a light brown with small mouth lines, sharp white teeth, and slit eyes. A headdress-turban painted black is sewn to the costume, made of coiled fiber, and forms a tasseled fringe at the rear. A body covering of netted fiber dyed with dark and light brown is woven into stripes against a natural yellow ground. Carved wooden nipples are sewn to the front of the costume. Figure stands about 5' 5". CONDITION: The costume had been fitted over a mannequin and displayed for many years in the African Gallery, 1st floor of museum, and is much frayed from handling by visitiors and dirty from exposure. Hands have suffered the most damage, in their extended position.
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