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Heartshaped Kwele Mask Art Object

Contemporary Handmade

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Cameroon

$215 $95

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PROVENANCE

The Kwele people, who occupy the forest-filled land between the Dja and Ivindo rivers of West Africa, are known for their ceremonial masks. The sculptural faces are celebrated for their simplicity and pensive expression, and they are used during initiation rites as well as at the end of mourning periods.

Representative of good-natured forest spirits and resembling people or animals (and sometimes anthropomorphic hybrids), the masks are traditionally painted with white kaolin earth, a symbol of light and clarity.

Maintaining the belief that death, sickness, and other misfortune is caused by witchcraft, the Kwele people engage in what is called the beete ritual - an event that is meant to protect Kwele communities from evil spirits. The beete ritual begins with a group of men going on an antelope hunt, and the antelope mask represents these sacrificed animals. While the men are off hunting, protective spirits enter the village and comfort the women and children. Heart-shaped masks with feminine faces, representative of tranquility and recovery, signify this latter part of the ceremony.

When not being used in ceremonies, the masks are hung in Kwele homes.