Mask for the Kifwebe Association

Artist/maker unknown, African

Made in Africa

Late 19th century

Wood, pigment

21 x 9 x 9 1/2 inches (53.3 x 22.9 x 24.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White Collection, 1957

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    The salient forms of the mouth, nose, eyes, and crest as well as the striated red and white relief of this striking mask proclaim its active and aggressive functions. Such masks were most often worn to protect communities from evil, as a masked performer ran through the village carrying sticks, striking and verbally threatening all in his path. At other times the mask, which could be used only by men who had been initiated into the Kifwebe Association, was worn to rouse soldiers during battle. This type of mask represents a kifwebe, a composite spirit of human and animal nature believed to inhabit the mountainous wilderness of Songye country in Zaire. Certain components of the creature are symbolized in the mask. The most recognizable, as suggested by the striped relief, is the zebra, an animal thought to bridge the real and the supernatural worlds; the mask's crest represents the zebra's upright mane. A fiber beard originally attached through the holes in the chin signified a lion's mane. This dramatic mask was given to the Museum by the artist Vera White and her husband, whose interests included early twentieth-century art and Japanese prints. Allen Wardwell, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 353.