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L. Pescador, 1995






Pende. Mbuya Mask (ex Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kwango Area, Katundu Zone).

Wood, beads, cowrie shells, fibres, metal, paint.

H. 18 cm (wooden section only)


Provenance: Julius Konietzko, Hambourg

                  Mamadou Keita, Amsterdam

                  Galerie Joaquin Pecci, Bruxelles


Mbuya initiation mask are worn after the circumcision ceremony (mukanda) undergone by young boys. They may represent different characters (a sluggard, a dirty, dishevelled man, a streetwalker, and so forth); different professions (woodcutter, hunter); or animals. Some masks depict different historical characters- the pigmy, the foreigner, the Luba, the missionary.  Originally these masks were used in religious activities. Gradually, however, their theatrical style of performance gave way to an approach more relaxing for their audience. This mask probably portrays of a prince. Worthy of note is the gentle modeling with the unbroken arch of the eyebrows barely raised in relief, but indicated with a dark line. From  the plaited fibre strands representing the hair hang a number of taxation tags from colonial times. (In: Herreman Frank: “Sculptuur uit Africa en Oceanie. Sculpture from Africa and Oceania”, Rijskmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo, 1990)

An annotation of the Scholar Zoe Strother about this mask: I will make a few general comments. The general shape of the face and the handling of ears and brow suggest Pende. There is precedent for the continuous vertical line down the forehead and nose with tacks, esp. among the Eastern Pende. The mouth could go either way. The decorative cicatrice under the eyes is wrong for Pende. They make use of it to soften the cheekbones on female masks rather than to echo the eye orbits (as Chokwe do). There may be clues in the coloration & how it is applied. It looks reddish in the photos. If so, that is more suggestive of Pende. Older masks used the same red cosmetic barkwood paste that people used (mistakenly called "camwood" sometimes/Kuba call it "tukula" or "nkula"). Then there's the beautiful coiffure, which is unprecedented for DOCUMENTED Pende masks.My suspicion that I would want to explore is that it comes from a Chokwe sculptor working on the Pende frontier in southern DRC. No one has worked with this community but they were very active carvers. Pende in particular admired their female masks and often placed commissions with them or bought examples from itinerant carvers who passed through their villages. You can find a better map in my other book, "Inventing Masks,"* p. 7. There was a lot of moving back and forth, especially in the early colonial period, for reasons that would take too long to explain.That is the best that I can do without handling it. Objects and carvers moved across ethnic boundaries all the time as de Sousberghe* himself emphasized. One thing -- it is definitely NOT Gatundo (misspelled by Francophones as "Katundu").

*Strother Zoe, “Inventing Masks”, University of Chicago Press,Chicago, 1998

*De Sousberghe L., “L’Art Pende”, Académie Royale du Belgique, bruxelles, 1959.


(1) Strother Zoe, “Inventing Masks”, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998

(2) De Sousberghe L., “L’Art Pende”, Académie Royale du Belgique, Bruxelles, 1959




- Sculptuur uit Afrika en Oceanië/Sculpture from Africa and Oceania, Rijksmuseum, Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Novembre 1990 - Gennaio 1991.

- Masques Pende, Galerie Joaquin Pecci, Bruxelles, 9 giugno - 9 luglio 2010.

- L'Africa delle meraviglia - Arti africane nelle collezioni italiane, Palazzo Ducale e Castello d'Albertis, 31 dicembre 2010 - 5 giugno 2011.



- Cover of Arts d'Afrique Noir magazine n. 57, 1986.

- Van Kootenm T. et van den Heuvel, G (Eds), Sculptuur uit Afrika en Oceani/Sculpture from Africa and Oceania, Otterlo, 1990, pag. 148, no. 64.

- Bargna I, e Parodi da Passano G., L'Africa delle meraviglia - Arti africane nelle collezioni italiane, Genova, Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo (MI), pag. 92.