Title: Female Mask (agbogho mmwo)
Date: 20th century
Artist: Unidentified Igbo artist
Medium: wood and paint
25 3/16 x 7 5/16 x 8 9/16 in. (64 x 18.5 x 21.8 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Dr. Donald M. Suggs
Object Number: 223:1977
Place associated: southeastern Nigeria
Current Location: On View, Gallery 102
Masks such as this are worn by men to represent the Igbo ideal of female beauty: small, balanced features, elaborate hairstyles, and delicate tattoos. This mask, with its crested superstructure and carved openwork forms rising above a coiffure of tight curls, illustrates the elaborate hairstyles worn by girls when emerging from seclusion in preparation for marriage. These “maiden spirit” masks (agbogho mmwo), are worn at festivals that celebrate the incarnate dead, those collective ancestors who assure prosperity and protection for the living community. This function explains the white painted surface of the mask (here quite faded), a color associated with death. During the ceremony, the ancestors re-appear as beautiful maidens from the spirit world, wearing colorful, tight-fitting fiber costumes, and entertaining the crowd with exaggerated versions of women’s dances.
- 1977
Dr. Donald M. Suggs, St. Louis, MO, USA

1977 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, given by Dr. Donald M. Suggs [1]

[1] A letter dated December 16, 1977 from Lee Parsons, curator at the Saint Louis Art Museum, to Dr. Donald Suggs acknowledges the gift of this object as part of a larger donation [SLAM document files]. Minutes of the Acquisitions Committee of the Board of Trustees, Saint Louis Art Museum, December 14, 1977.
Exhibition History
Title: African Highlights (2009)
Date: Begin November 2009
Venue: Saint Louis Art Museum
Publication History
Title: West African Sculpture: Sacred Space, Spirit and Power
Periodical Title: The Saint Louis Art Museum Bulletin
Author: John W. Nunley
Publisher: Saint Louis Art Museum
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