Art and Centralized Power

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kuba artist


Wood, copper, cloth, leather, shells, beads

H. 27.3 cm (10 3/4")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.195

Second in the hierarchy of masks is Bwoom, a massive face sculpted from wood with an enlarged forehead and a pronounced nose. Bwoom masks generally are abundantly adorned with beads, hides, cloth, and copper. There are various explanations as to the mask's origin, but most accounts identify it as a representation of a Tshwa Pygmy, the oldest, original inhabitants of the region occupied by the Kuba kingdom. The dance movements performed by these masks allude to historical events that spectators attempt to decipher and interpret (Herreman 1993: 132). Some say that Bwoom is the commoner who defies the authority of Moshambwooy (the chief) and competes for the love of a female mask called Ngaady a Mwash (Cornet 1978: 202). The field photograph shows both of these masks in performance.

Kuba artist, Democratic Republic of the Congo, royal mask dance. Photo by Angelo Turconi.