Nicholas A. Trifiletti

Ideas in the Visual Arts

I9 1:00 MWF

The Songye Masquerade

INTRODUCTION

When I again entered the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, I immediately asked the security guards where the African collection was located. I passed through the Chinese and Japanese galleries but nothing drew my attention more than the African mystique. As I entered the room a distinct smell came across my noise, one that suggested undiscovered grounds. This is an art criticism paper, in which I will describe, interpret, and evaluate the Female Mask, c. Late 19th Century.

DESCRIPTION

The Female Mask is a combination of wood, fiber, hide, pigment, and shell. The Female Mask rests in a case and its height is about 55-inches, width about 32-inches, and depth about 24-inches. The mask has four distinct components that embody the headdress. The first component is the similar style of the hooded sweatshirt shaped, woven under-dress. This material seems to be ruggedly sewn from a fibrous material that is a light maroon color, with distinct hints of light and darker concentrations of a brown tone throughout the under-dressing. Each sleeve of the dressing has three-finger gloves perfectly sewn into the dressings’ sleeves. The texture of the under-dressing is that of a chain-mail stitch pattern with all seams cleverly hidden, expressing the attention to detail. The dressing covers the entire upper body of the female who wears this mask. I also noticed the waistline of the dressing is about 12-inches short of the tips of the three-fingered gloves.

The next component of the Kifwebe mask is the thick, beard-like fibrous dressing located about the chest region. The fibrous dressing connects directly to the chin, and is sewn directly below the region of the chin area. The material resembles that of hay from a bail, but has thicker, tubular characteristics. The color of this material has deteriorated, but the fibrous material appears dark brown, and is tangled like many vines stacked on top of each other. The beard’s overall shape resembles the poorly drawn alphabetical letter of M. With the left arm of the M stemming about even length with the actual under-dressing’s arm, with about an 8-inches difference between the left and right respective arms. The middle area is very ruff cut, and shows these same uneven dimensions.

The third major component of the Kifwebe mask is the mask itself, made of intricately carved wood about the size of a basketball. The upper half of the mask is evenly rounded like if the ball were to be cut in half. The bottom half of the mask is skewed inward leading all the way down to the chin; picture an elephant foot connected upside down. These two "halves" connect to form the frontal view of the mask. The side view of the mask boasts a large forehead, and a protruding mouth shaped like a rectangle, which protrudes about 3-inches from the mask’s cheek and chin areas. The mouth is also hollowed out, and goes into the mask to let air and sound project. The triangular-shaped nose remains flat with that of the long forehead, but cuts in directly below the nostril area. The nose sticks out about even with that of the mouth, and the cheek and chin areas stay flat from the nose down. The eyes are shaped like big basil leaves with a coconut shell color, and have would be "stems" that lash out to the side of the mask. The 3-inch long eyehole slits, cover the bottom span of the basil leaf-shaped eye region at about the thickness of a pencil. There is also a distinct 1-inch, maroon line that runs thinner thru the nose region, starting at the top of the mask continuing to the bottom of the nose. This same pattern continues from the mouth to the chin. The side view also reveals that the forehead of the mask protrudes about 5-inches from the sculpted side panel border, where the mask connects to the chain mail-like fiber dressing. The mask exhibits adjacent, geometric grooves that start at the major facial features, and are symmetrically contoured to the sides of the mask. The lines on the upper half of the mask are smooth and even. Where as on the bottom of the mask, the lines are sharp and jagged, like