Skip Navigation


Arts of Africa

This Lele mask is closely related to the Kuba mask depicted in Brendan Fernandes’s video As One shown here. The masks chosen for the ballet duet Fernandes composed for As One are known to have been danced in their own distinctive way. The female mask covered with geometric patterns in the video is from the court of the Kuba kingdom, and was originally worn as the face of a female court historian who danced in a carefully choreographed narrative. The Lele make masks that have much in common, both visually and functionally, with those of their neighbors in the central Kuba kingdom, but are much rarer.

The Lele sculptor of this mask employed an imaginative and skillful use of pigment to underline volume contrasts such as the convex, almond-shaped eyes—accentuated by multiple eyebrows arranged one atop another—and the pronounced relief of the nose, ears, and scarification marks. Such masks appear principally at the funerals of chiefs and elders but are also used in annual performances that celebrate and teach the history of Lele origins and migrations.
MEDIUM Wood, pigments, fiber
DATES late 19th or early 20th century
DIMENSIONS 13 x 9 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (33 x 24.1 x 21.6 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal, Carll H. de Silver Fund and A. Augustus Healy Fund
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Facial portion of mask carved on a relatively flat wooden plate,squared on top and curved at bottom. Eyes are almond-shaped with narrow open slits in the center. There are three deeply carved continuous heart-shaped linesover the eyes, and one underneath. The areas between contain white and ochre pigment; the areas under each eye ochre only. The nose is in high relief- long, tapered and flared slightly at the nostrils. The mouth is a small slit with white pigment. The forehead is slightly convex. There are three diamond shaped cicatrizations on the forehead and one on each cheek. A knob in very high relief appears on either side of the eye. A raffia trim attachment outlines the face, and there is an elaborate raffia cap-like headdress.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Kuba (Lele subgroup). Mask, late 19th or early 20th century. Wood, pigments, fiber, 13 x 9 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (33 x 24.1 x 21.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal, Carll H. de Silver Fund and A. Augustus Healy Fund, 82.160. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 82.160_PS1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 82.160_PS1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2007
"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.
You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply. Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please fill out our online application form (charges apply). For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch. For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright. If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.