Lwena Mwana Pwevo Mask

  • Tribe: Lwena
  • Origin: Angola, DRC
  • Approx Age: Mid - Later 20th Century
  • Materials: Wood, Material Netting
  • Dimensions cm: 35cm long including net adornment x 25cm front to back
  • Ref. Number: 0901

A beautiful styled and rare Lwena Pwevo mask showing scarification around the eyes along with a dot patterning to both sides of the face. Incised carved diamond shaped coiffure along with a traditional   fully attached neck net beautifully adorning this mask. Signs of wear patina are also visible on the inside of the mask. With its elegant design, delicately rendered detail, and a beautiful natural colour of the wood enhances the mask.

Provenance: Ex Hendrick de Roy Collection

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Like the famous Pwo masks of the neighbouring Chokwe, Lwena Pwevo dance masks were part of a complex masquerade practice which was integral to pre-colonial Lwena cosmology. Owing to the small population of the Lwena people, as compared to the surviving arts of the populous Chokwe, classic Lwena art is extremely rare.

In female initiation ceremonies this mask represents the ideal young woman, Mwana Pwevo also called Pwo. She acts as a role model by speaking gracefully and displaying gentle manners. In public performances, women escort Mwana Pwevo to the centre of their village, where the head of the village receives her ceremonially.

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The pwevo masquerade of the Lwena honored womanhood through the celebration of idealized female beauty. While the Chokwe were organized as patriarchal and patrilineal society, womanhood was celebrated in the pwo masquerade, in all likelihood a cultural adaptation of the Lwena pwevo. Discussions of the better studied Chokwe pwo masks can thus be applied in general terms also to Lwena pwevo masks. LaGamma (2011: 214) notes: “the appearance of the masked and costumed dancer was credited with enhancing the fertility of the assembled audience.  The German ethnographer Hans Himmelheber [1939] further observed that these masquerade ensembles were the property of individual elders, who wore them for public theatrical entertainments accompanied by drumming and song.  Such spectacles were often staged in the dancer’s own and neighboring villages in order to elicit remuneration from the audience.  The connection that developed between a mask and its owner/performer was an especially close (and secret) one, and the dancer frequently accorded his mask a proper name.  The acquisition of such a work has been characterized as a mystical marriage and often involved payment of a symbolic bride-price to the artist.  Ultimately, this cherished possession was buried with its owner.

“Although the mask element adhered to overarching conventions developed to pay tribute to idealized female beauty, its visage was typically informed by that of an individual closely studied by the sculptor.  The process has been described as one in which the artist drew inspiration from the world around him through a subject with whom he was intimately familiar.  Because the masks’ proportions were modeled on those of a particular face, Himmelheber has referred to such works as ‘half-portraits.’  Bastin corroborates that in the execution of such works, when a sculptor was observant of historical practice, he would seek to augment the realism and thus the efficacy of the work by selecting as his model a woman renowned for her beauty and exemplary character traits. She further notes that the physiognomy of a muse most likely to be cited formally was in the depiction of features such as the nose, mouth, ears, coiffure, and cicatrizations on the forehead and cheeks, which were considered signs of aesthetic perfection in a Chokwe woman.  Obtaining such nuanced information required liberal access to and familiarity with the subject.  Consequently, if an artist had previously reproduced the features of his own wife, betrothed, or girlfriend, he might select a married woman and request that her husband provide the necessary details.  Yet just as the human identity of the masquerade dancer was withheld from women, the appropriation of a particular female model was also undertaken through subterfuge.  Therefore, certain information about the visage in question, such as its length, the distance between the eyes, and the relationship of the nose to the mouth, was ascertained by caressing the face with a stealth tape measure in the innocuous form of a vine. According to Himmelheber, once the template for a mask’s proportions was established, the artist worked in isolation.”

Source : Sotherby’s