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Janus-Faced Helmet Mask (Ngontang)

Date:
19th–20th century
Geography:
Gabon
Culture:
Fang peoples
Medium:
Wood, pigment, kaolin
Dimensions:
H. 11 3/4 x W. 10 7/8 x D. 10 3/4 in. (29.8 x 27.6 x 27.3 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.24
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
In Fang society, the treatment of reliquary figures, whose blackened surfaces glisten with ritually applied palm oil, contrasts with that of the masks known as ngontang. These masks are idealized female faces whitened with kaolin. Members of an initiation association whose authority transcends that of both family and village, ngontang wearers are engaged in quests for sorcerers and criminals and in combatting evil. The multiple faces on the masks suggest the idea of heightened powers of perception and, when integrated into a raffia costume ensemble, intimidate audiences.
Paul Guillaume, Paris; [Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1952]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1952, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978

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