Image 173. Female (Pwo) mask. Chokwe peoples (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Late 19th to early 20th century C.E. Wood, fiber, pigment, and metal.
This work was created by the Chokwe people in Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 19th to early 20th century. Chokwe society honored young, fertile women. It was a matrilineal society rather than patriarchal, so these masks showed the ideals of the Chokwe people. The hairstyle of the mask was fashionable at the time. The artist was a Chokwe man. This work conforms to the artistic conventions of the Chokwe people because it honors women in society through art and is included in traditional masquerades. This work impacted young girls at the time by exemplifying the values they should uphold and prepared them to be good wives and mothers in the future.
This mask portrays a woman’s face. It shows the ideal woman and ideal virtues. The themes present in this work are domestic life, ceremony and society, and fertility. The face has a calm expression, closed eyes, a closed mouth, large eyes, a narrow chin, and an accentuated wide forehead. The closed mouth and eyes show that she deserves respect, the white kaolin around her eyes connects to the spiritual realm represents her spiritual second sight that comes from being able to give birth. The artistic style of this piece is mostly idealized, but it is also stylized and naturalized.
The materials used to create this work are wood, fiber, pigment, and metal. The artist used carving techniques. The most prominent element in this work is texture. The face is very smooth and the hair has a softer texture while the headband had a rough texture. This creates a contrast between these textures that makes the face look more like a realistic woman.
The purpose of the work and the intention of the artist was to honor women were who young, fertile, and had successfully given birth. Another function of this mask was to recognize the founding female ancestor of the Chokwe lineage. This work was created by a Chokwe man to be worn during masquerade rituals. During these dances, the mask was meant to be worn by a male dancer to honor women who have gone through childbirth and retained wisdom and beauty.
Pwo- a classic Chokwe mask genre that honors founding female ancestors