Gelede mask - ROM2008_9801_39


Gelede mask

Maker: Unidentified Yoruba maker
Medium:Carved painted wood
Geography: Republic of Benin
Date: early 20th century, collected before 1920
22.2 × 35.6 × 29.2 cm
Object number: 924.9.16
Credit Line: M.A. Leblond Collection of African carvings
On view
Gallery Location:Shreyas and Mina Ajmera Gallery of Africa, the Americas and Asia-Pacific
DescriptionEach spring when the rains arrive, the Yoruba community conducts a cultural performance known as Gelede to honor and placate the `mothers` through recognizing their spiritual power. The term `mothers` refers to elderly women within the community, female deities, and the general qualities of femininity and womanhood. Individuals in Yorubaland take part in this performance by commissioning unique masks which evoke a particular sentiment, theme, or depict a certain character. These masks are then presented to the mothers alongside intricate costume, dance, and music in an effort to gain their good blessings, and renew communal ties. Most Gelede masks are commissioned in pairs, and are each distinct in name and form. Without knowing the name or folklore behind a particular mask, it is difficult to know what it represents, although somethings can still be inferred. This wooden mask features a brown face and light blue eyes, a headdress with spears on each side, and a twisted style black and white fabric around the face. When looking at the mask head on, the fabric appears to emulate the appearance of a turban, a common technique featured in masks which depict Muslim clerics or people from northern Nigeria. Headdresses that feature religious figures are often part of the daytime Gelede performances, which provide social commentary by featuring various everyday people and situations. Religious figures are depicted in Gelede masks in an effort to recognize their contributions to the spiritual well-being of the community. Islamic and Christian priests are common characters in the Gelede performance, as they remain integral to the Yoruba's spiritual community. The spears on the side of the head likely represent power or strength, and give the mask an air of prestige. This mask would be worn titled on the head of a dancer, with a fine mesh hood to cover the face, and a tunic-like garment or raffia to conceal the body. 
Global Africa
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