Minnesota and North Dakota Chapter

Female Mask from the Night Dances

Artist: Unknow
Date: 19th-20th century
Dimensions: 85 x 70 x 25 cm
Materials: Wood, plant fiber, pigment
Total Cost: $10,670.00

The bifwebe (kifwebe in the singular) masks are ceremonial objects of a similarly-named society that, even today, play a role of great importance in ceremonies of the east Luba and Songe populations. The bifwebe masks, worn with a long costume and a long “beard” of plant fibers, are featured in the most important ceremonies. The female mask, unlike that of the male kilume (bilume in the plural), lacks the crest placed atop the head and has a face covered with subtle carvings, painted in white. Parts of the mask are meant to portray the characteristics of specific animals, such as the lion, the zebra, the crocodile, or the porcupine. The colors on the mask express various character traits or the spiritual dispositions. White symbolizes positive traits, such as purity, peace, the moon and light. Red, on the other hand, is associated with blood, fire, courage and strength, but also harm and dark magic. The female masks fundamentally reflect positive forces. They appear most often in night dances, during the most important lunar celebrations or on the occasion of the ordination or death of a chief. The mask is made from carved wood, cut and then accentuated with white paint. Long strips of plant fiber are attached along the perimeter of the mask.

The mask is in a poor state of conservation. Moderately sized fractures are visible on the upper part of the mask. The surface has been worn away by biological damage, and insect holes and gaps are present. The entire surface is covered with numerous scratches and abrasions. A layer of deposit covers the wooden surface of the mask. The white pigment is full of holes and is detached. The long “beard” is in disarray. The plant fibers are split, weakened, and have lost elasticity. Attached to the piece, there is also an iron hook, which is entirely irrelevant to the work.


  • Scientific studies
  • Anoxic disinfestation
  • Consolidation of the wooden structure
  • Consolidation of the white pigment
  • Removal of the proper elements
  • Restoration of the elasticity of the fibers through humidification
  • Dry cleaning
  • Cleaning of the fibers where possible
  • Filling of gaps
  • Chromatic integration
  • Photographic and graphic documentation

UPDATE: Restoration on this project is complete. We will be receiving a full description soon!

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