Selection of Songye Kifwebe Mask and Nkisi statue, Songye people, DRC
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Traditionally, Kifwebe masks were created and worn by members of the secret masking society, Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe, of the Luba and the Songye People, living in the central part of the Congo. They were danced, representing spirits connecting this world with the spirit world. These masquerades were performed during rites associated with funerals and initiations, serving to rid the community of evil presences. Kifwebe masks represent abstracted male or female beings. Angular and thrusting forms characterize both types, and in both cases, the entire face is covered in patterns of geometric grooves that are uniquely characteristic of these masks. The face of typical Kifwebe masks is covered with linear incisions, a square protruding mouth and a linear nose set between round pierced eyes.
According to the specialists, Kifwebe masks are not only differentiated by their shape and size but also by the basic surface colouration and the decorative design and patterns on the surface. The masks said to represent a female are rarer than masks supposed to depict a male. Female masks, such as this one, will have no sagittal crest or perhaps a slightly raised flat one. They are directly related to the physical world and procreation; their task is to invoke benevolent spirits that will influence the future generation. They exude beauty, tranquillity and inner peace and are not aggressive in appearance. The female Kifwebe mask with a projecting mouth, triangular nose and almond-shaped eyes has an overall hourglass shape. It is completely covered with concentric linear carvings divided by a black vertical stripe running from the top of the head, over the nose, up to the mouth. Contrary to most female Kifwebe masks, this one is dark brown. With wear and age to the wood, Patina suggests this is a particularly early example, used for a long time.
A Songye diviner, in addition to designing and empowering a community nkishi for the protection and well-being of all the village members, may prescribe a smaller nkishi for the private use of an individual, customized to their personal needs. The scale and aesthetic form of the nkishi shown here reflect its role as a unique devotional object standing on a circular base with flat feet beneath angular, muscular legs. The arms are bent alongside the torso with finely incised hands resting on the prominent abdomen: pointed breasts and cubistic shoulders under a broad neck surmounted by the round-slightly oval- head. The face is sculptured with incised almond-shaped eyes and the nose as wide as the open mouth. Where "medicines" was once inserted, a cavity is evident in the stomach area with the rest of the organic material. The sculpture has a delicate glossy cream to beige ivory patina.
Dimensions 62cm x 23cm x 16cm