According to Marie-Louise Bastin (letter dated November 20, 1981, on file with Sotheby's), the offered lot is one of only three Chokwe masks known to represent the bird spirit kapukulu. The other two masks are: one collected by Dr. A. de Barros Machado for the Museu do Dundo, Angola, and a second in the Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva which was exhibited in William Rubin's seminal 1984 exhibition "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (Rubin 1984: 364) and sold at Sotheby's, New York, May 19, 2000, lot 277.
In her discussion of the offered lot at the occasion of the exhibition African Aesthetics: The Carlo Monzino Collection at The Center for African Art, New York, Vogel (1986: 182) comments: "Its gaze impenetrable and indefinite, this mask communicates the essence of a bird's head without reference to specific features. Bastin (1981) has identified it as khanga, a guinea fowl that for the Chokwe symbolizes fecundity. She reports that masks of this type, along with human and animal masks, such as those representing pigs and baboons, appear in traditional Chokwe festivals that are part of a magico-religious complex intended to promote the harmony and well-being of the community. A bird spirit is also honored by the Chokwe to increase the fruitfulness of women, and the success of the hunt. The almost brazen simplicity of this mask is remarkably effective. [...] The double rim, suggesting a hooded, mysterious covering, must be imagined as it looked when the mask was worn, for the wearer's eyes were surely visible in these large openings."
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