Fang Mask Ngil Society Gabon Pearson Collection
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From the Collection of Dr. Robert Pearson, Denver, Colorado
Dr. Bob Pearson began collecting African art later in his life. He was an engineer, inveterate climber, and long-time collector of books and paintings. Spurred by the Douglas Society at the Denver Museum of Art, and his friendship with noted collector George Heggarty, he began building an enormous, eclectic collection. His African art library grew to several hundred books. He loved textiles and ‚Äúmaterial culture‚Äù-things that had domestic use, like spoons, cups, stools, and chairs, as well as masks and carvings. His collection included items from more than thirty African countries, and his fine eye gave him pieces ranging from a gold dust scale to huge Dogon figural ladders. Africa Direct is honored to have been chosen to sell them.
A Fang's face carved mask painted in white. The surface and the interior are worn and the surface of the face shows signs of numerous paintings of the face indicating its age and long use as well. The openings at either side of the mask were used to tie the mask to the head and face of the wearer. This piece remains a good example of Fang masks. It will be well placed in a collection
Well known for their reliquary figures the Fang also danced finely sculpted masks during several ritual activities. Among the Fang white-painted masks identified with the Ngil society are known for their elegant abstractions of the human face. Ngil masks have been described as having a 'heart-shaped face' due to the facial features emphasizing refined curves of the orbital ridges above the eyes and the prominent line of the long tapering nose that ended above a discrete mouth carved at the bottom of the chin that completes the abstraction of the face. Ngil masks were worn during initiations and were known for judicial and social control activities in searching out sorcerers, a process that ultimately led to their being banned by the French colonial authorities in 1910. A later development among the Fang was the appearance of a mask known as Ngontangan, "the head of the young white girl" referring to early European women missionaries who arrived on the coast during the nineteenth century. The mask may have had ritual or ceremonial meaning in the past exorcising malevolent sorcerers but appears not to carry significant symbolic weight today. Though few the elegant forms and abstractions of the Ngil masks made them very attractive to early modern European artistic sensibilities serving as models for several sculptors. While emphasizing its pure forms, the mask's white color also marks its spiritual identity.