Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Head (Bwami)

19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Lega peoples
Ivory, cowrie shells
H. 4 3/4 x W. 2 x D. 2 in. (12.1 x 5.1 x 5.1 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1967
Accession Number:
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, until 1967; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1967–1978

Cameron, Elisabeth L. Art of the Lega. Los Angeles and Seattle: Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2001.