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Female Effigy Vessel Permanent Collection:
Sub-Saharan African Art:
Female Effigy Vessel

Zaïre, Mangbetu. Early 20th century A.D. Ceramic. 8 x 6 in. (20.2 x 15.1 cm). Gift of William S. Arnett. 1994.3.19

At the turn of the century Mangbetu women of northeastern Zaïre wore their hair in the elaborate coiffure depicted on this vessel. The incised patterns on the face and rounded chamber represent the body decoration practiced at that time. The same heads also appeared as carved ornaments on Zande and Mangbetu harps. Utilitarian pottery produced by Mangbetu women provided the foundation for this new genre. Through creative influences from neighboring peoples, Mangbetu male artists added the head and transformed the traditional pottery into this innovative, figurative style. These vessels were eventually commissioned by chiefs as gifts or prestige items. The American Museum of Natural History's Congo Expedition of 1909 - 1914 provided additional stimulus to production through its collection program. But without any clear usefulness to the Mangbetu, this type of pottery died out after a brief period of florescence.


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