D0M9M317.jpg (42909 bytes)Mende (Mendi), Sierra Leone

Sowei (Bundu) helmet mask. The Mende art is best known for black, helmet-shaped masks, named sowei or bundu and used by the sande society, in particular, during the initiating girls. The initiates learn wisdom, beauty, grace, and self-control, all of which they will need within the multigenerational, polygamous households of their future husbands. All Mende girls join the sande society at puberty. Representing female water spirits, the masks have an idealized female face whose aesthetic reflects religious and philosophical ideals. The design of the facial features conforms to strict conventions and has symbolic content. The neck rings which are a significant characteristic of all sowei masks must not be regarded as representing obesity, but as placing a plastic emphasis on the fine line of the neck which is highly esteemed and regarded as being beautiful. The masks are carved by men, but danced by women. This is unusual in Africa, since men usually wear masks that conceal the face. The masks were worn over the head.

Material: wood, old coins

Size:   17”x 9”x8”

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