Liminality / Mourning

By Monica Demott
(formerly University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Bushoong artist

Nyata a Masheke (mask)

Wood, vegetable fiber, feathers, horns 

H. 65 cm (25 5/8")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1990.650

The funerals of titleholders are long ceremonies involving an extensive use of masks.  This mask has many of the characteristics of the Bushoong royal style: polychromatic geometric patterning, prominent horns, feathers, and the red camwood powder called tukula.  The high forehead of this mask reflects the tradition of shaving the forehead and temples.  This left the natural hair-growth line visible, and it is this line that is often indicated on Bushoong figures.  The decoration of the mask is also specific to its funeral use: "Many Kuba masks, as well as masks from other regions in Central Africa, utilize a decorative device of parallel lines which run from below the eyes, across the cheeks and end at the chin line.  This is often described as tear lines by initiated men and alludes to their own mourning periods at funerals" (Binkley 1987: 82).