Additional Information: An unusual pair of Mende Sowei Sande masks. Each mask is topped with a carved figure (male and Female). The surface is covered with a black dark shinny patina. This is a real pair made by the same artist. Both masks are well-carved and reflects the African artist’s ability to give shape to principles and ideals in sculptured form – in this case the Sowei mask of the Mende of Liberia. A powerful mask that would stand out in any collection.
Though many works of art have come out of the Guinea Coast region of West Africa few have as much prominence as the masks worn by the women of the Sande society of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Membership in Sande is exclusively reserved for women for it is the Sande society that initiates young girls into adult status assuring that the girls are instructed in their duties to come as wives and responsible adult members of their village. Sande continues to play a prominent role in women’s lives today among the Mende, Temne. Vai, Bassa, Sherbro, Gola and other peoples of the region. The authority of Sande derives its power and authority from Hale, the magic that women control. The authority of Sande and its protection of the young girls as they go through their initiations and as they are instructed in the secrets of Sande is known through the masks worn by senior women members and leaders of the local chapter. The masks known as Sowei are embodiments of ideal beauty and the precepts and ideals held by Sande. The care and attention given to details of hair, the features of the face and the skill of carving the head and side faces attest to the aesthetic dimension so important in Sande and it’s masks this is reaffirmed by the rings around the neck attesting to the health and well being and beauty of the woman displayed in the mask. Though carved by a male sculptor the Sowei mask is the only mask known danced by women in West Africa.
Mato, D. and C. Miller, "Sande; Masks and Statues From Sierra Leone and Liberia." 1990; Boone, S., "Radience From the Waters." 1986; Philips, R.B. Sande Masks. 1980.
I have examined this piece and agree with the description.
Niangi Batulukisi, PhD.