Arts of Africa
On View: Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Gallery, 5th Floor
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.
Wood, pigments, fiber
late 19th or early 20th century
13 x 9 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (33 x 24.1 x 21.6 cm) (show scale)
Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal, Carll H. de Silver Fund and A. Augustus Healy Fund
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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
overall, 82.160_PS1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2007
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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. Condition: Very good. There are raffia losses on top of the headdress , but it is stable and not shedding. Pigment around the eyes is beginning to flake slightly.
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