New Materials and Contexts

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Lunda peoples, Zambia, ancestral mask. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.

Some African arts incorporate several systems of representation at once; for example, sculpture may be combined with Western scripts introduced in the early twentieth century. While many rural peoples are fluent and literate in several languages, the purpose of combining these media is to speak on several metaphorical levels at once. This mask is danced on occasions such as the end of the Mukanda boys' initiation rites. It represents a character named “Wutenu,” the essence of all fierceness. The slogans written on the mask's fan-shaped crest refer to UNITA, the Zambian political party of Jonas Savimbi's rebel forces. Yet, the purpose of the slogans is not to refer explicitly to that political body as much as to the violence and ferocity of guerilla warfare. What has been extracted from the heartache of civil war is the fierceness of it, which is a metaphor for aggression in other circumstances.