FEB.4- MARCH 30, 1992

The Kuba people of Zaire, with 18 ethnic groups, have a dynastic kingdom over 1000 years old. This is reflected in their royal portrait sculptures, or Ndop, and the triad of masks relating to Woot and their mythological origins. The Mwaash A Mboy, Ngaady A Mwaash and Bwoom masks, among Africa's most famous, portray a struggle for love as well as power. Their distinctive forms are embellished with cowries, beads, metal, fur, fabric and geometric designs. Other masks include Pwoom Itok types, with cone-shaped eyes, several homed Bombo masks and elongated Kete masks.

There are two outstanding types of Kuba textiles. The Shoowa cut-pile embroidered velvet cloths were unique and sufficiently prized to be accumulated as a sign of wealth or used as currency; we are fortunate to have a great collection. The very long, appliqued raffia cloths used by Ngeende women as dance skirts are also highly valued. Other artifacts included in the show are a large number of iron knives, spears and currencies plus carved boxes, drums, divination animal oracles and beadwork, all of which attest to the Kuba love of geometric omament and their success in integrating their skillful, interlacing patterns into their everyday life.

KUBA, NGAADY MASK, Zaire © John Urban

This mask, covered with geometric designs typical of Kuba art, portrays the wife of the first Kuba king in a ritualized reenactment of Kuba mythological origins and royal power struggles. A Kuba ideal of beauty, Ngaady A Mwaash was fought over by Mwaash A Mboy, her husband and king, and his brother, Bwoom.


This complex mask, with its elephant trunk and leopard skin, represents kingly power in a ritualized reenactment of Kuba mythological origins and royal power struggles. Portraying both the god Woot and the first king, the character marries his sister, Ngaady A Mwaash, and contests with his brother, Bwoom, who speaks for the commoners. As with most Kuba art, the piece is highly covered with geometric abstract designs.


This mask, with its bulging forehead, represents the evil brother, Bwoom, in a ritual reenactment of Kuba mythological origins and royal power struggles. Seeking both the throne of his brother, Mwaash A Mboy, and the king's wife, Ngaady A Mwaash, Bwoom symbolically speaks for the common man.