Standing female figure
- Luba peoples
- late 19th–early 20th century
This sculpted female figure elegantly visualizes Luba concepts of feminine beauty, maturity, and civilization. Her hair is carefully arranged, and her eyes are downcast in modesty. Her body is elaborately decorated with scarification (ntapo) with named patterns inspired by things in nature. The figure’s glossy surface refers to a real-life feminine practice of applying oil nightly to scarified skin in order to heighten attractiveness. Her pose is that of a mature woman holding her breasts to signify women’s responsibility to guard the secrets of royalty.
Luba girls learned that a woman is not born beautiful but becomes so as a result of modifications to her face and body. This process begins at puberty, as part of coming-of-age rituals (butanda) that transform girls into physically beautiful and strong women who can fulfill their destiny as wives and mothers, and perhaps as receptacles for the spirit of a deceased king.
Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.