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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Makonde : Makonde Body Mask
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Makonde Body Mask - PF.6185
Origin: Tanzania
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 40" (101.6cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Wood, Cloth, Beads

Location: United States
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This is an uncommon example of the Makonde body mask. Traditionally, these body masks represent just the swollen breasts and stomach of a young pregnant woman. Masks such as this one, which includes both the upper thighs and face, are unusual but not unknown. These body masks were part of an initiation ceremony. For a period of six months, young men and women would be isolated from the tribe while they learned the rules of adulthood, including being taught about sex and the obligations of marriage. Upon completion of their course, these young adults would be brought back into the village where and elaborate celebratory ceremony would take place. The young men would don the body mask and perform a dance demonstrating their knowledge of the labors of childbirth. Normally, the dancers wear a separate female facemask to complete the disguise. However, on this rare example, the facemask and the body mask have been combined into one work of art. The depiction of the woman’s face is especially poignant. She wears the traditional metal lip plug that distinguished Makonde woman. Her stomach features decorative raised scarification patterns that were also traditional adornments of Makonde woman thought to enhance their feminine beauty. Snippets of real hair have been attached to the carved braids of her hair, heightening the effect of naturalism. In addition, large hoop earring have been inserted into her pierced ears and she wears a necklace and cloth covering between her legs, both decorated with beads. A representation of feminine beauty and fecundity, this large body mask is an rare example of a celebrated type of artwork that, when worn by young initiates, reveals an understanding of the ways of the world. - (PF.6185)


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