Additional Information: This Igbo mask is known as a ‘Beautiful Maiden Spirit Mask’ (in Igbo Agbogho mmanwu or simply Mmwo). Recognized throughout Igbo land they are most prominent among the Northern Igbo where they represent a delicate beauty and an idealized feminine essence. The face mask is carved with fine and delicate features with light coloring and dark scarification reflecting Igbo aesthetics. The mask has lines drawn on its surface detailing features and recalling design patterns worn by women traced in dye on various parts of their bodies. These cosmetic markings known as uli are found in areas by the ears, foreheads, eyes, cheeks, and on each side of the mouth as on this mask. The complex hairstyles shown on the ‘Beautiful Maiden’ masks are composed of hair that has been given a thin covering of colored clay or charcoal and will often have jewelry, cowrie shells, coins or even small mirrors incorporated into it. On this mask, the three crests are decorated with horn-like designs to the top. The surface shows a number of repainting of white paint indicating some age for the mask. Among Igbo colors also have symbolic meaning as white refers to the spirits.
This mask portraying a ‘Maiden Spirit’ was danced by young men in a kind of homage to the idea of beauty and is an idealization of form reflecting Igbo belief in the power of feminine beauty as a force in human society. Physical beauty in a young woman is also a reflection of her moral upbringing, her character and good reputation within her community.
For a similar piece see Cole, H.M. and C. C. Aniakor. Igbo Arts, fig. 224, p. 120
Cole, H.M. and C. C. Aniakor. Igbo Arts. Community and Cosmos Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles, 1984
I have examined this piece and agree with the description.
Niangi Batulukisi, PhD.