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Mask (Mwaash aMbooy)

Arts of Africa

The Mwaash aMbooy mask personifies Wóót, mythical ancestor of the Kuba peoples. Kings and dancers performed this mask during initiations and funerals. One performance told the story of Wóót’s role in the Kuba kingdom's founding and his ties to its first ruler. Mwaash aMbooy’s physical features underscore an ideal Kuba leader’s traits. Its monkey-fur beard symbolizes wisdom. The cowrie shells were a royal privilege and a sign of wealth. They also reference how Wóót stole the creator god’s bead-and-cowrie-covered basket of knowledge. Its costume evoked royal regalia. While Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, on view nearby, turned an individual into an icon, the Wóót mask connected a Kuba ruler to his dynastic past.
MEDIUM Rawhide, paint, plant fibers, textile, cowrie shells, glass, wood, monkey pelt, feathers
DATES late 19th or early 20th century
DIMENSIONS 22 x 20 x 18 in. (55.9 x 50.8 x 45.7 cm) mount: 23 × 18 × 16 in. (58.4 × 45.7 × 40.6 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE Museum Expedition 1922, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund
PROVENANCE Prior to 1922, provenance not yet documented; by 1922, acquired by François Poncelet of Brussels, Belgium; 1922, purchased in Brussels from François Poncelet by Stewart Culin for the Brooklyn Museum.
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CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Mask of thin parchment, painted. Elaborately trimmed with shell and hair decoration. Shell eyes. The surface is highly decorative, composed of intricately painted geometric designs and geometrically arranged cowrie shells and beads. One feature, a long strip of beaded decoration extending from the bridge of the nose to the chin is present. Emphasis placed on 2 dimensional surface quality and elaborate polychromy. Condition: Headdress worn and torn.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Kuba (Bushoong subgroup) artist. Mask (Mwaash aMbooy), late 19th or early 20th century. Rawhide, paint, plant fibers, textile, cowrie shells, glass, wood, monkey pelt, feathers, 22 x 20 x 18 in. (55.9 x 50.8 x 45.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Expedition 1922, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund, 22.1582. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: , 22.1582_overall_PS9.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 22.1582_overall_PS9.jpg., 2019
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