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Christian Duponcheel, Pietrebais, vers 1980
Jack Naiman, New York
Pace Primitive, New York
Kerchache, J. et al, Art of Africa, Paris, 1989, couverture intérieure, n. 5
W. Rubin ed., "Primitivism" and 20th Century Art, Volume I, New York, 1984, p.343
Ogawa, H., Power of Form, Tokyo, 1999, p.115, n.155
Post Lot Text
MAGNIFICENT SONGYE KIFWEBE MASK
This superb Songye kifwebe mask with its finely grooved and painted surface accentuating the bold geometry of convex and concave forms is undoubtedly one of the finest known and certainly the finest to appear at auction for many decades.
The term "kifwebe" simply means "mask" to the Songye although it has long been used to refer exclusively to this type of mask by collectors, dealers and academics. The cult which uses such masks would appear to have started in the late 19th century. The earliest example to have entered a European collection was the mask given by Livin Vandevelde to her sister Madame Stroobant in 1885 (see Herreman, F. and Petrides, C. (ed.), Face of the Spirits. Masks from the Zaire Basin, Ghent, 1993, no.68. and p.252). The Museum für Völkerkunde in Munich acquired their first mask with the striations associated with kifwebe in 1905 and Tervuren in 1910. Frobenius was the first to record the name "kifebbe" in his field notes of 1905/6 and in 1914 Tervuren acquired photographs of dancers wearing the familiar white oblong masks which were recorded as coming from the Eastern Songye region. As to their use and function early reports and subsequent field research have led Dunja Hersak to conclude that the kifwebe mask was "a powerful social instrument probably associated with healing and ritualized forms of mystical and transformational control" (op.cit., p.148). By the time Dunja Hersak and others did their fieldwork in the early 1970s the mask and its function had undergone substantial changes in form, context and meaning, so a clear interpretation of our early and fine example may never be possible.
The present mask can perhaps be most closely compared with the mask in the University Museum in Philadelphia purchased from the Paris dealer, Charles Vignier, in 1921 (Wardwell, A., African Sculpture from the University Museum University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1986, p.123, no.58) and another fine old mask with similar treatment of the nose sold by Sotheby's London in June 1981, lot 210.