Sowo Mask, between 19th and 20th century

  • Mende, African

Wood with pigment

  • Overall: 15 13/16 × 9 × 10 1/2 inches (40.2 × 22.9 × 26.7 cm)

Founders Society Purchase, New Endowment Fund


On View

  • African: Journey of Life, Level 1, North


African Art

All Mende women are members of the Sande society, which instructs girls in their responsibilities and protects the rights of women in the community. The features of this mask convey Mende ideals of female morality and physical beauty. The downcast eyes indicate a spiritual nature and the high forehead indicates good fortune; the elaborate hairstyle reveals close ties within the community of women. This mask would have been worn with a costume of black raffia that completely hides the identity of the individual.

(Merton D. Simpson Gallery, New York, New York, USA)

1990-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)

African Masterworks In The Detroit Institute of Arts. Washington and London: The Detroit Institute of Arts and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995, cat. no. 14.

Mende, African, Sowo Mask, between 19th and 20th century, wood with pigment. Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, New Endowment Fund, 1990.268.