Palm wine vessel

CULTURE:
Mangbetu peoples
DATE:
early 20th century
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General Description

This Mangbetu vessel depicts a woman with an elongated head (the result of binding the forehead at infancy) wearing a classic, fanlike coiffure that identifies her as royal. The figure's hairstyle, which in real life required an armature to stand upright, serves as the spout of the vessel. During the late 19th century, European explorers penetrated far inland to Mangbetu country in the northeastern part of the former Belgian Congo (the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) and European taste for figurative art encouraged Mangbetu sculptors to create objects in this style.

This particular type of Mangbetu vessel, of which only a few are known, is unusual because it is double-chambered and is buff colored instead of black. In Mangbetu society, male artists made terracotta "head" vessels as well as vessels of carved wood and cast or forged metal. Women traditionally made nonfigurative pottery strictly for domestic purposes. In addition to European influence on artistic production, interethnic marriages between peoples who observed gender-specific rules in making pottery may have also resulted in men and women working together to make these vessels.

Adapted from

Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 286-289.

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