Punu Mask

Africa | Gabon

Punu Mask

Gabon

Mukuyi mask

Carved wood and pigments
Late 19th – Early 20th century
Height: 9 ½ in. (25 cm)

Ex collection Marie-Ange Ciolkowska (1898-1992), Paris
By descent in the Ciolkowska family until 2021

Punu Mask ex collection Ciolkowska / Galerie Flak Price on request
The white masks of the Punu people from Southern Gabon are veritable icons of classical African arts. As early as 1910, a white Punu mask could be seen on the wall of Pablo Picasso's studio in Paris (see W. Rubin, Primitivism in 20th Century Art, 1984, p. 300).

This ritual mask is the representation of an idealized woman's face. It superbly combines expressivity and grace. Such masks were testaments to the power and beauty of Punu women.
As stated by A. LaGamma (1995), "M'Pongwe Mukuyi" (also known as "mukudj" or "okuyi") masks were used during the mwiri ceremonies, an important male initiation society spread throughout southern and central Gabon. They also appeared during community rituals linked to important events in the village life such as births or funerals. Masked performances also aimed at bringing the community together when social order had to be restored after a transgression had been committed. The dancer wearing a Mukuyi mask (always a man) stood on stilts and danced through the village, provoking people with acrobatic stunts.
This mask has all the characteristics of ancient classical Punu masks: a refined and elaborate crested coiffure, delicate face features, and perfect balance and construction.
The filtering look, enhanced by the thin eyebrows and slit eyes, conveys an intense sense of serenity.

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