Central Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Salampasu peoples, ca. early 20th century CE. A dramatic hand-carved wooden mask with a copper-covered face. The forehead is lined with several drilled holes through which strands of woven reed are knotted, and the braided reed beard has a single suspended rattan ball. The open mouth is carved full of white-painted teeth, and the Salampasu style is present here with a characteristic bulbous forehead. Wide ovoid eyes, a broad triangular nose, sloping cheeks, ring-form ears, and a pointed chin comprise the highly-stylized visage, and dozens of small copper panels pinned across the face have developed fine areas of green patina. Size (w/ beard): 6.75" W x 17" H (17.1 cm x 43.2 cm); 21.125" H (53.7 cm) on included custom stand.
The approximately 60,000 Salampasu people live on the Kasai River, near the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola; they are governed by territorial chiefs and have a reputation as fearless warriors. Masks like this one are marks of hierarchy, accessible to men after they have passed through a circumcision ritual. Earning the right to wear a mask means that a man has accrued a certain amount of wealth (through payments of livestock, drink, and other material goods) and has performed specific deeds. The copper sheets are a prerogative of leadership, and in some cases, are worn by members of the Ibuku warrior association who have killed in battle.
A stylistically-similar example with a rattan-ball coiffure hammered for EUR 7,800 ($8,752.11) at Christie's, Paris "Art Africain et Oceanien" auction (sale 5325, June 20, 2006, lot 200): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/masque-salampasu-republique-democratique-du-cong-4742743-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=4742743&sid=3caf2e96-2947-4328-a08a-632f6ad2ab30
Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection, from an American collection with old inventory number "1978.37.27" written inside verso
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Original coiffure and some original copper panels missing. Minor indentations to some copper panels, fading to white pigmentation, with minor abrasions and nicks to forehead, nose, chin, and beard, and light encrustations within some recessed areas, and minor insect damage. Light earthen deposits and great patina throughout. Old inventory number "1978.37.27" written in red ink within verso.