2801Re: [African_Arts] A Congo mystery
- Jan 3, 2008Dear Lee:
Thank you for this lengthy, thoughtful and obviously comprehensive answer to my plaintive request. I agree with MEF that you deserve high respect for your patience and considerate responses to such requests. I would add that your scholarship also warrants great respect.
Thank you for parting the clouds. Now that you have provided the reference sources and the possibilities, I am reminded of the Luba kifwebe features in the mask. Had these been present on a mask that was not on a plank, I might have suspected right away as to its possible origin. Your other reflections and references on the iconography also remind me of other masks I have seen and researched.
In short, I think what we have is a cross-cultural attempt to create a kifwebe-esque (kifweboid?) mask. It has elements of Luba kifwebe design and elements of Songye kifwebe tradition to my eyes. Was it carved for use or for sale? No way to tell. But my usual experience is that outright commercial creations tend to be rougher and more singular, recognizing that "looking" authentic helps to convince buyers that it may be authentic. That does not mean this mask ever was used or intended to be used ceremonially. It most likely was not used, although one never knows what the carvers intention was.
At the bottom, it is a very attractive and skillful carving in a tradition that we admire. We are proud to have it hanging on our wall. Especially now, with our refreshed understanding of its probable origin.
Thank you again.
-------------- Original message ----------------------
From: Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@...>
> I can't really determine any remotely clear attribution or identity
> for the plaque that you presented. The overlap and apparent inter-
> relationship of masks in the Kasai region and surrounding areas make
> attribution exceedingly complicated and difficult to conclude
> decisively. You might, however, find some confusing yet productive
> directions in a couple of excerpts from Marc Leo Felix's Beauty and
> the Beasts:
> The first is confusing both in sentence structures and the range of
> references but as such it does represent well the complexity: "A
> strange Kifwebeoid mask from an old Dutch collection probably...
> comes from the area situated between the Kalundwe, Kanyok, Luba Kasai
> and other south-western Songye, [sic] it has horns curving both up
> and downwards, these are decorated with large black and white bands,
> this mask was carved by a Chokwe! The artist was probably
> commissioned to carve Kifwebe-style mask by a local association, he
> even introduced the straight, bulging brow of the Lunda world Katoyo
> (outsider) character, this mask was never used, it was probably
> rejected because the leaders of the association did not recognize the
> mask's style as being theirs and the icons did not match what their
> tradition requested." (p.57) Horned masks in various styles -- and
> theorized to represent a variety of animals --seemingly abound in
> this general area; the absorption and transformation of aesthetic
> forms via the complex social interactions in the area make it a
> conundrum indeed to sort the determining factors on which to base an
> attribution or range of plausible influences...
> Another somewhat but perhaps less broad and open-ended suggestion
> refers to the existence of "plankmasks" in the region: "In the...
> Western Luba area [eastern part of Kasai] we... find Kifwebe-shaped
> masks affixed to a large plaque. This plaque is usually decorated
> with stripes, or geometric motifs. These plankmasks... might not in
> fact be Bifwebe but rather belong to a different type of masks called
> Kalengula used by a different association. They are typologically
> related to the somewhat striped plankmasks ascribed to the northern
> Kete and other Kasai masks affixed to plaques." (p. 59).
> Perhaps some of the geographic, cultural and formal elements
> mentioned will spark a promising direction for clearer understanding.
> On Jan 2, 2008, at 1:24 PM, William Waites wrote:
> > Any help will be appreciated.
> > I have posted photos in the photos section in an album entitled "A
> > Congo Mystery" [http://ph.groups.yahoo.com/group/African_Arts/
> > photos/browse/6e46] of a plank mask we acquired in 1994 from an
> > African
> > dealer who attributed it to the Congo. It is slightly convex, 12" high
> > x 6" wide x 2 1/2 deep". Red seeds are embedded in the eye holes.
> > Has anyone in this august group seen something similar? Do the design
> > effects suggest a tribal group? I've racked my brain but remain
> > uncertain - Yaka? Songye?.
> > Bill Waites
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