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19th and 20th Century African Art: Female (Pwo) Mask


173. Female (Pwo) mask. Chokwe peoples (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Late 19th to early 20th century C.E. Wood, fiber, pigment, and metal


  • Cultural influence of Chokwe
    • The Chokwe society has the tradition of giving honor to fertile women
    • Matrilineal – family line passed down through mother


  • Subject Matter and Narrative – an ideal woman
    • Mouth and eyes closed: doesn’t need to talk or see because she’s already knowing
  • Theme: spirits and ancestors; masquerades
  • Iconography/symbols – facial feature: serenity
    • Whiteness around the eyes: connected with spiritual realm
    • Eyes are the most important part of the face (the biggest); she has a second sight because she can give birth
    • The tattoos on the face represent the different emotions of women.
  • Style of Work - stylized 


Map Image


Works Cited/ Resource List

Harris, Beth, and Steven Zucker. “Female (Pwo) mask (Chokwe peoples).” Khan Academy, YouTube, 9 July 2015.


  • Material – wood, fiber, pigment, and metal; kalyan – white clay
  • Technique – carving and painting
  • Visual Element 
    • Circular shapes are a prominent feature of the mask, as can be seen from the eyes, the ear rings, and the pounded dots
    • ‚ÄčThe overall shape of the mask has a symmetrical balance to it


  • Purpose of work/ Intention of the artist
    • Worn in masquerade only by a male dancers
    • Honor women who are young and fertile
    • Honor the founding female ancestors of Chokwe


Kalyan: white clay