H. 7 1/8 x W. 4 1/2 x D. 1 9/16 in. (18.2 x 11.4 x 4 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964
Not on view
In the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo art is created primarily for semisecret associations of men and women, such as the Bwami society of the Lega peoples. The teachings of Bwami permeate all aspects of life, guiding the moral development of the individual and governing relations with others. Bwami doctrine is represented by wood and ivory masks, heads, and small figures, all of which play a vital role during initiation into the society's highest grades. Although simple in form, these carved objects embody complex and multiple meanings, elaborated through proverbs, skits, and dances. The masks refer to ancestors and are passed from one generation of initiates to the next as symbols of continuity. For the Lega, physical beauty and moral excellence are inseparable. The dotted-circle motifs on many Lega works represent body markings, which enhance both the carvings and the characters they depict. The smooth polished surfaces of these sculptures allude to the refined and perfected nature of the Bwami initiate.
Jeanne Walschott, Paris, Antwerp, and Brussels, until 1962; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1964; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1964–1978
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 446.