African (Mbuti peoples)
Object Place: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Length and width: 53.3 x 99.1 cm (21 x 39 in.)
Medium or Technique
Beaten bark with vegetal pigment
Not On View
Abstract design of thick lines, small dashes, and pinwheels on a golden ground.
The Mbuti live in the Ituri rainforest of the northeastern Congo, and are among the last hunter-gatherer nomadic cultures in the world. To make a ceremonial loincloth, called pongo, men collect the inner layer of tree bark and pound it until it is thin and pliable. Women make pigments and paint the cloth, creating drawings that often evoke the forest landscape. The loincloths are worn during rites of passage, including weddings, funerals, initiations into adulthood, and ritual dances. In the twentieth century, the abstract and improvisational character of the drawings and their complex asymmetrical patterns made such loincloths a favorite of European and American collectors, who saw parallels with modern movements in Western art.
About 1930, collected by Mr. Buscahot of Belgium in the Congo; 1989 purchased by Tai Textile Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Pierre Loos, Brussels, Belgium; Purchased by MFA March 21, 2007
Museum purchase with funds donated by Robert and Jane Burke, Suzanne W. and Alan J. Dworsky, Jeremy and Hanne Grantham, and funds from the Textile Curator's Fund and Textile Deaccession Fund