Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Figurine: Female (Bwami)

Date:
19th–20th century
Geography:
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Culture:
Lega peoples
Medium:
Ivory
Dimensions:
H. 6 1/4 x W. 2 x D. 1 1/8 in. (15.9 x 5.1 x 2.8 cm)
Classification:
Bone/Ivory-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1966
Accession Number:
1978.412.538
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. For the Lega, physical beauty and moral excellence are inseparable. The smooth polished surfaces of these sculptures allude to the refined and perfected nature of the Bwami initiate.
Clark and Frances Stillman, New York, until 1966; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1966–1978

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