A Chokwe mask, of hollow oval form, a wide mouth with carved teeth beneath a slender nose, pierced coffee-bean eyes, surrounded by high brows, scarification marks all over the face, on the forehead the well-known Chokwe symbol, a geometrically highlighted hairstyle or headband with raffia attached to the rim of the mask; dark to light brown colored surface with some traces of abrasion, incl. stand.
Its name – Pwo, “the woman” – is enough to convey the significance of this mask in Chokwe country. As a part of the initiation of young boys, Pwo master embody the link between the new age group and a female ancestor, and more broadly the elemental relations between the village community and the chiefs, the ancestors and the guiding spirits.” (Wastiau, Chokwe, 2006, p. 44-45).
The beauty it exalts symbolizes the fundamental role played by women in the matrilineal Chokwe society, inherited from the temporal and spiritual power once held by female rulers of the ancient Ucokwe (native country). Its figuration dates back to the time of the great “expansion” of the Chokwe people, who, from the beginning of the 19th century, migrated from the Ucokwe (Angola) to present-day Congo and neighboring Zambia. This period constitutes, in terms of masks, the golden century of Chokwe arts. According to Boris Wastiau, it is in the light of this historical context “that the aesthetics of ancient female pwo masks should be approached” (ibid, p. 11). Formerly, the focus of attention on the half-closed eyes, underlie the canons of beauty that prevailed at the time: elegance of the scarifications, teeth filed to a point and highlighted in kaolin, diadem coiffure holding back hair made of plant fibres braided and coated in ochre, and finally a deep brownish-red patina, emphasizing the features’ precision and the sensitivity of the outlines.
In the late 1970s collector and dealer Patrick Dierickx acquired several masterpieces from the same corpus, from old Portuguese families. The pwo mask from the Philippe Guimiot and Domitilla de Grunne collection (Sotheby’s, Paris, 17 June 2009, No.53), and another shown during the exhibition Heroic Africans. Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (LaGamma, 2012, No 198, p. 220).
600 – 700,- Euro
Height: 23 cm
Weight: 460 g