Maiden Mask, Igbo, Nigeria

The Igbo people of S.E. Nigeria place a strong emphasis on gender relations. Sculpture from this group typically traces their lineage back to the first parents of the Igbo people to honor male and female power. This mask,  Agbogho mmwo, represents the Igbo ideal of feminine beauty. The men who wear the mask dress in colorful costumes and participate in the yearly Fame of maidens masquerade to honor ancestors. The masquerader also performs in various feminine roles, demonstrating acceptable and unacceptable behavior for young girls in the community. The masquerader also sings tributes to real and spirit maidens during the performance. Female masks are painted white to represent purity, beauty and the bones of ancestors, while male masks are painted dark colors to represent impurity.  Although they represent opposite ideals, each embody spiritual power. The mask is carved to represent the feminine aesthetic; oval face, slit pierced eyes, straight nose, upturned mouth and crusty patina with traces of kaolin. The hair is arranged in curvilinear patters to emulate braids.  


Source: Blackmun-Visona, Monica, et. al. A History of Art in Africa. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson: Prentice Hall, 2008, pp. 211-12. 

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