Ancestral Mask

Punu peoples

Gabon

Ancestral Mask, 1927

  • On View

Wood with black, white (kaolin) and red pigment, leather, and fabric

Dimensions: 12 3/4 × 8 3/4 × 7 1/4 in. (32.4 × 22.2 × 18.4 cm)

Gift of Genevieve and Richard Shaw, by exchange, 2011.319

In Punu culture ancestral masks are painted white to symbolize peace, the deities, the spirits of the dead, and the afterlife. Traditionally white is the most predominant color used in funerary celebrations. Before every funerary dance, white clay called Kaolin is applied to the ancestral mask to give it a bright luster. Then dancers on stilts perform acrobatics to communicate with the ancestral spirits, performing a dance between the worlds of the living and the dead. Although this mask is designed with characteristics of Punu ideal feminine beauty, white is considered a genderless color and therefore the mask represents all spirits of the dead.

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