Knife box

Kuba peoples
19th–20th century
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General Description

African women in traditional societies enhanced their natural beauty with scarification and cosmetic preparations. For example, they applied black kohl to their eyes, painted their faces and bodies with a reddish powder or paste, and moisturized their skin with shea butter. These and other cosmetic substances required containers for mixing and storage. Natural objects such as gourds and shells were available to all, but those who could afford to stored their containers in pots, boxes, and bowls artfully carved by sculptors.

Kuba sculptors carved boxes in a variety of shapes and decorated them with incised and low-relief motifs that had specific names that were probably symbolic. The boxes, which are entirely covered with these geometric and figurative motifs, were used to store cosmetics (square and half-moon boxes) and grooming implements (rectangular boxes).

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 236-237.