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Hemba Mask

Arts of Africa

Among the Suku of the southwestern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, masks plays crucial role in protecting boys during initiation, the vulnerable period between boyhood and manhood. The power contained in Hemba masks may be directed against those who disrespect or attempt to harm the initiates, or it may be used to cure illness and promote prosperity. Often brightly colored and surmounted by animal figures, these masks depict past elders and lineage heads—people who command a great deal of respect and who make important decisions affecting the community.

CULTURES Suku; possibly Kwese
MEDIUM Wood, raffia, pigment
DATES 20th century
DIMENSIONS 26 x 21 in. (66.0 x 53.3 cm) height of head and animal: 16 1/2 in. (41.9 cm) width of head: 9 in. (22.9 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Abbott A. Lippman
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Painted wood mask, surmounted by 4-legged animal, raffia fringe attached to holes at base of mask. Face tilted slightly backwards; mouth is open with upper row of jagged teeth; protruding almond-shaped eyes and painted eyebrows; three vertical paint marks under each eye; each quadrant of face marked by predominant color - green white, blue, red-brown; traces of green-yellow paint on right side. Helmet composed of central crest with two overlapping layers on each side: surmounted by 4-legged animal painted green with horn on top of head. Large split on right side, extending from base to top of head. CONDITION: Blue paint flaking on upper right side of face. Crack on left side of face extends upward from base. Piece missing from left side of helmet; caked substance along right side dry and flaking.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Suku. Hemba Mask, 20th century. Wood, raffia, pigment, 26 x 21 in. (66.0 x 53.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Abbott A. Lippman, 85.143. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 85.143_SL1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 85.143_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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