Bateke (Teke), Congo. Wood. Pigment. Height: 17"
This Teke mask has a most surrealistic appearance, elongated face and nose, almond slit eyes and finely filed teeth. Oral history of the West and Central African peoples speaks of the symbolic importance of the appearance of African objects and the stories they tell. According to this oral history, teeth (and many carvers went to great lengths to carve and showcase them!) and especially finely filed ones, could indicate that one was in excellent health (and therefore a good candidate as a suitor!), wealthy, and of great strength (all the wonderful attributes we still aspire to have to this day!). It could also be an open mouth showing teeth as a warning. As a primordial deity, would have been used for ancestor cult and protection.