H x W x D: 39.5 x 45.0 x 53.9 cm (15 9/16 x 17 11/16 x 21 1/4 in.)
Muenshi village, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mid-late 20th century
This mask was photographed by its donor, Life magazine photographer Eliot Elisofon, while being danced in Muenshi village in 1972. Made of cloth, fiber, glass beads and cowrie shells, Mukyeem is a variant on the royal mwaash a mboy mask, but can be distinguished by its projecting elephant trunk with two small tusks. It is found not among the royal Bushong clan but among the Kete and other peoples that made up the Kuba kingdom where traditionally it was a funerary mask. The materials and the elephant form convey the importance of the individual who died and the white color of the cowries also suggests the spirit world. The red parrot feathers (from the tail of the African grey parrot) at the tip of the trunk are inserted for the dance and are a nobleman's privilege.
Cap mask with leather face, and cowrie shells forming the eyes and framing the face and back of head. The trunk-like extension from top of the head alternates glass beads and cowrie shells and ends in a red feather bundle. Mask has a raffia beard ruff.
Eliot Elisofon, New York, collected Muenshi village, 1972-1973
Artful Animals, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2009-July 25, 2010
African Beaded Art: Power and Adornment, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, February 1-June 15, 2008
Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual, Renwick Gallery, Washington D.C., March 17, 1982-July 10, 1983
Park, Edwards. 1983. Treasures of the Smithsonian. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, p. 379.
Pemberton III, John. 2008. African Beaded Art: Power and Adornment. Northampton: Smith College Museum of Art, p. 152, no. 79.
Smithsonian Institution. Office of Folklife Programs and Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art. 1982. Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 64, no. 27b, illustrated p. 20.
Turner, Jane (ed). 1996. "Africa." The Dictionary of Art, Vol. 1. New York: Grove, p. 301, no. 58.