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Pende Tundu Mask, Democratic Republic of Congo

Mask, 20th Century
Pende people; Democratic Republic of the Congo
Wood and cloth; 15 x 7 1/2 x 4 in.
F79.27.24
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Daniel Solomon
This is a 20th century mask made by the Pende people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. Masks are the dominant form of Pende sculptural work and are used in masquerades where artists, musicians and dancers perform their accomplished arts. The look and character of a mask is conceptualized by male dancers who will perform it. The dancer creates the mask only after he has choreographed a dance for it, written a song for it, and selected the necessary dance costume and props to accompany it. When these things have been accomplished the dancer collaborates with a drummer to come up with the lead rhythm for the mask’s dance. Finally, if the mask is new in concept or character a master sculptor will be consulted to expertly reflect the nature of the being. This mask is Tundu and he acts as the clown or idiot in masquerades. Tundu is grotesque in physical appearance and even more so in his behavior. His role in the masquerade is to show how disgusting it looks when one does not follow social standards. The earliest Tundu masks were simply woven raffia placed over the dancers head. It is said that the Belgians suggested by carving a wooden Tundu mask that the Pende would create a product more desirable to European collectors. This was the case and as it turns out the Pende also preferred the wooden masks and permanently adopted this change. The Tundu mask at the Bowers Museum shares similarities with the earliest of wooden Tundu masks carved around the 1950’s, namely the tubular protruding eyes and smallpox scarred nose. In this interpretation the sculptor has given Tundu very large nostrils and a closed and fat-lipped mouth shaped into a smirk. To say these physical appearances are unattractive to the Pende is an understatement – Tundu is physically repulsive. In Tundu’s dance his gestures are overtly sexual and shocking. He appears in most masquerades and dances the longest, interacting with both the crowd and the other dancers. The dancer carries out actions that never would be tolerated in normal circumstances. During masquerade his role functions to socialize the community and is absolutely necessary.  All text and images under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change with additional research.
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