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African, Democratic Republic of the Congo,

Eastern Pende People

Mukanda Mask with Heart-Shaped Face and Horns,

Early 20th Century

Wood, with traces of pigment

Bequest of Mrs. Margaret Webster Plass

Collection of La Salle University Art Museum, 90-A-14

The Eastern Pende people of the Democratic Republic of Congo created this animal mask for use in boyhood initiation rites of the Mukanda Society. The mask was originally painted and hung with raffia at the sides. It would have been worn by costumed dancers as part of social coming-of-age ceremonies.

The mask was not made as an object of art but rather as a ritual performance prop. Displayed in the Art Museum, it has been removed from its original context and transformed into an object of visual interest. Various exhibition strategies impact how the mask is perceived by viewers, including display within serial and comparative arrangements.

Students learned about these and other issues in ARTH 480: Exhibition Seminar on African Art, which I taught in spring 2018. The course provided opportunities for hands-on experiential education and laid the groundwork for an exhibition which will take place at the Art Museum in spring 2019.

In developing the exhibition plan with my students, we created a temporary display of African objects in the Special Exhibitions Gallery, which was then empty. Various La Salle classes took the opportunity to visit during this time, including a Philosophy of Art class taught by Dr. Cornelia Tsakiridou. Both Miranda Clark-Binder and I participated as guest speakers. Surrounded by pedestals topped with African sculptures and masks, we discussed issues of artistic transience, and the idea of these objects as remnants and relics of performances. Our conversation wove around the sand mandalas created in the Art Museum by Tibetan Buddhist monks, highlighting the importance of impermanence in the midst of material collections.

Klare Scarborough, Ph.D.

Director/Chief Curator, La Salle University Art Museum

Broader Identity

  • 1. Understanding Diverse Perspectives

Effective Expression

  • 9. Creative and Artistic Expression

Active Responsibility

  • 11. Cultural and Global Awareness and Sensitivity

See this object in the Art Museum Online Collections Database:


Collection of La Salle University Art Museum;