Democratic Republic of Congo - Kuba Mukenga Mask (Art Institute of Chicago)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Late 19th/mid-20th century
Wood, glass beads, cowrie shells, feathers, raffia, fur, fabric, thread, and bells
22 5/8 x 9 1/2 x 8 in.
Mukenga masks like this one are worn at funerals of influential, titled men in the northern part of the Kuba kingdom. The mask's form and materials combine symbols associated with status and leadership. Its surface is comprised of raffia cloth upon which glass beads, cowrie shells, raffia fibers, and animal fur are attached. The carefully arranged cowrie shells, once prized as currency, signal wealth and status. The beard-like ruff of the large and dangerous colobus monkey refers to powers of the forest. A prominent trunk projecting upward and over the front of the mask represents the elephant, the supreme symbol of leadership.