Félix Fénéon

Unrecorded artist, Songye peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. _Mask_. 19th–early 20th century. Polychrome wood. 18 7/8 × 11 × 12 5/8" (48 × 28 × 32 cm). Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Bequest of Dr. Maurice Girardin, 1953. © Musée d'Art Moderne / Roger-Viollet: Photo Eric Emo

Unrecorded artist, Songye peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mask. 19th–early 20th century 325

Unrecorded artist, Songye peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mask. 19th–early 20th century. Polychrome wood. 18 7/8 × 11 × 12 5/8" (48 × 28 × 32 cm). Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Bequest of Dr. Maurice Girardin, 1953. © Musée d'Art Moderne / Roger-Viollet: Photo Eric Emo

Curator, Yaelle Biro: Wherever you stand in the galleries. This helmet mask might be looking at you.

Hi, my name is Yaelle Biro. I am the associate curator for African Art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. So you are looking at works from Africa that were collected by Félix Fénéon at the beginning of the 20th century.

One of the things that really brought African objects to the forefront of the avant garde in Paris was a fresh way of thinking about the representations of the human body. We were really moving away from natural forms and moving into things that were much more stylized.

Early 20th century collectors were interested in the pure form. The function of the object was really not the main focus. This mask from the Congo is only one part of the full ensemble. It would have been probably performed during ceremonies where the dancer, the masquerader, would have been hidden by fibers. The rest of the performance, the sound that went with it, the movements and the music and the fibery costume would have been left aside.

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