Africa

Punu Mukuyi mask from Gabon

This white-faced maiden is sometimes mistaken for a character from the Japanese Noh theater. It is from the Musee du quai Branli and is one of the best Punu masks I have ever seen. Think how this highly abstracted sculpture would have shocked European artists in the late 19th century.

The Punu were originally part of the Luango kingdom of Angola in the 18th century, and settled in south and southwest Gabon. In the Mukuyi society it represented a female guardian spirit in the funerary rites, initiation of adolescent girls and ancestral cult. At the burial ceremonies of this Punu society the mask represented a female ancestor. This mask has a face painted bright white with kaolin, and wonderfully styled eyes, nose and mouth that look much different than the people living in this region. In the Mukuyi society the masked persons, often on stilts, performed acrobatically at the dance of the full moon symbol of fertility.  1490

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