Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Mask (Kifwebe)

19th–mid-20th century
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lomami River region (?)
Songye peoples
Wood, pigment
H. 17 1/2 x W. 11 1/8 x D. 7 3/8 in. (44.5 x 28.2 x 18.7 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
Certain masking traditions of the Congo River basin personify local control of mystical power. Striated face masks known as kifwebe probably originated in North Shaba, an area inhabited by both Songye and Luba groups. Significant departures in the role and formal interpretation of this art form subsequently developed in each culture. Among the small Songye chiefdoms along the Lomami River, maskers were emissaries of the ruling elite, who relied on the ideology of witchcraft and sorcery to sustain their rule. These kifwebe members commanded a body of esoteric secret knowledge visually encoded mnemonically in the mask's features. Hierarchical distinctions between a single female mask and an unlimited number of male masks are reflected in color and in sculptural features.
Private collection, Brussels, until 1930; [Henri Kamer, Paris and New York, until 1958]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1958, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1958–1978

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. 436.

The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 94.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 83.

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