Chokwe Mask, Angola
Wood, pigments, two early collection labels
height 9 3/8in (23.8cm)
Field collected by Dr. Hans Himmelheber, Heidelberg, Germany
Weyhe Gallery, 1940
Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield, Michigan
Sothebys-Parke-Bernet, May 2, 1972, Lot 256
John J. Klejman Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York
Exhibited and Published:
African Negro Art, The Weyhe Gallery, New York, 1940, fig. 65
This exceptionally carved mask is of hollowed form with a heavily adzed inner surface and exquisite dark brown outer surface patina with encrustations. The face is defined by protruding eyes slit horizontally below arched brows, a linear nose and projecting diamond-form mouth slit between the lips. Scarifications accent the forehead and cheeks.
"Such representations are especially significant given that the Chokwe trace descent through their mothers' lines. Pwo's joint performance with her male counterpart, Cihongo, brings fertility and prosperity to a community. The cultural ideals of these two iconic representations developed during the precolonial period continue to inspire contemporary artists in the region.
Inscribed motifs on the mask's forehead and cheeks are classic graphic designs that aesthetically enhanced a woman's beauty in past generations and were signs of ethnic identity. The central cruciform on the forehead has been interpreted as a cosmogram while the markings on either cheek are described as a solar disc joined by tears. Chokwe masks are often performed at the celebrations that mark the completion of initiation into adulthood. That occasion also marks the dissolution of the bonds of intimacy between mothers and their sons. The pride and sorrow that event represents for Chokwe women is alluded to by the tear motif." (Metropolitan Museum of Art; WEB 2013)