H x W x D: 25.4 x 17.1 x 7.9 cm (10 x 6 3/4 x 3 1/8 in.)
Mongala Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mid-late 20th century
The Budja comprise several large chiefdoms and live along the banks of the Congo River in the northwestern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the terrain is heavily forested and crossed by numerous streams. They farm, fish, hunt and raise animals such as goats, chickens and ducks.
Budja art is largely associated with ceremonies involving agrarian and hunting activities. Budja artists carve highly stylized animal and human sculptures, particularly masks, practices reminiscent of the art traditions of other northern Congo peoples such as the Ngbaka, Banda, Baali and Ndaaka, among others.
This mask, with its oval face, small circular depressions, pierced square eyes and rectangular mouth, has traits that characterize many northern Congo masks. Above the triangular nose and extending into the middle of the forehead, the artist created a series of horizontal incisions similar to scarification patterns found on the faces of several northern Congo peoples. Additional incisions were made on forehead, cheeks and chin. The holes in the mouth once held bone or wood teeth, now lost. Two incised semicircular lines on either side of the face represent ears. Dark-colored lines above the eyes indicate eyebrows, and the rim of the mask has been darkened to indicate the hairline. Perforated slits on either side of the face probably held a leather thong to attach the mask to the face. The mask's surface has been stained brown.
The function of this mask is unclear, but it may have been used by members of one of the voluntary associations prevalent among northern Congo peoples. One of these associations, the Aniota, was probably organized by local Congolese to oppose the incursion of Islamic rulers into their territory. Older Aniota masks were made of bark, not wood. Wooden masks are less widespread in the northern Congo region than those of bark, leather or hide, and therefore, if this mask was used by an Aniota member, it may be a more recent development.
Oval face mask of a dry, light wood, yellowish in color, with pierced square eyes and mouth. The holes in the mouth indicate missing teeth. Mask has overall impressed black circular decorations, probably a leopard motif, and horizontal incised lines on the bridge of the nose and continuing onto the forehead.
Marc Leo Felix, Brussels, collected Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1979-1980 to 1984
Pavilion: A New Look, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., October 9, 2019–ongoing
Artful Animals, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2009-July 25, 2010
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 147, no. 106.