Collection

Wood Mask

Wood Mask

Punu, Gabon.
Mid 20th Century,
Pigment, Incised Wood, 12" x 6".

These Mukudj masks are symbolic of the spirits of ancestors and represent the most idealized form of beauty. The masks are often realistic recreations of what the Punu peoples look for in an attractive female countenance. Often painted white or light-brown, these masks contain pursed, protruding lips, almond shaped eyes incised with a meditative slit, high-domed foreheads, and most often with the coiffure that is known to be traditionally used by the Punu women. This tall, rigid hairstyle is iconic in its styling and has become a defining feature for this style of mask. The masks often carry an Orientalized expression, but no known direct influence has been established. Many of the Punu mukudj masks can be recognized by a series of raised, diamond-shaped scarification marks or symbols, which can be seen on the foreheads and temples.

These masks are used during the “mukudji” dance by acrobatic performers on high stilts, dressed in skins, raffia cloths, or special celebratory costuming. These dances are often commissioned for special occasions, commemoration of a special or honored individual, or the increase of prestige for the village. These dancers claim to have the power of the spirit of the mask and train form an early age in order to accomplish the feats required to perform this spectacular dance.

The Punu reside on the left bank of the Upper Ngoume River (Gabon) and belong to the group known as Shira, which were originally part of the Luango kingdom of Angola.

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