Mende Helmet Mask - Sierra Leone

Bundu masks (also called sowei) belong to the Sande women’s society of Sierra Leone and Liberia, and are rather unique in Africa, being danced exclusively by women. Representing powerful water spirits, bundu embody and transmit ideals of femininity. They typically feature smooth, high foreheads and compressed facial features beneath an elaborate and imaginative coiffure. Circling the mask at its base are a number of stacked neck-rings, which depict simultaneously a physique of robust health and the ripples created by the emergence of the spirit from the water’s surface.

This beautiful bundufeatures all the classic hallmarks of the type, executed with sharp precision and adorned with a shining black patina. The coiffure wraps the head with four registers of concentric diamond motifs, crowned with five crests embraced by a winding serpent.

Early 20th century
19" h
Provenance: Private US collection
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