Gelede Body Mask
Arts of Africa
Masquerade is to some extent always “new.” Each performance varies in response to changes in setting, music, costume, audience, and the performers’ movements. However, circumstances sometimes require the invention of totally new types of masquerade to address new issues.
Ode-lay is a uniquely urban form of masquerade that developed in Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown. This mask likely has its origins in the 1960s or ‘70s, when new genres of film, particularly those from or about Asia, inspired novel mask creations. The crowned central figure on this mask, flanked by two pairs of sinuous snarling serpents, may be directly related to the kung fu movies of the period. The imagery of this mask may also recall that of Mami Wata, a pan-African water goddess recognized throughout West Africa and the Caribbean, whose roots lie in the local adaptation of imagery drawing from India, the Pacific, and Europe.
Male Yoruba dancers wear gelede masks at festivals honoring the women of the community. Gelede often serves as a showcase for artistic innovation, with its masks depicting motifs that are both entertaining and critical. The full-body example seen here is a highly unusual artistic reinvention of the gelede form; only about half a dozen are known in Western collections.
49 1/2 x 22 x 15 1/2 in. (125.7 x 55.9 x 39.4 cm) (show scale)
This item is not on view
Gift of Corice and Armand P. Arman
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Yorùbá. Gelede Body Mask, 19th century. Wood, paint, 49 1/2 x 22 x 15 1/2 in. (125.7 x 55.9 x 39.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Corice and Armand P. Arman, 1999.129. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1999.129_SL3.jpg)
front, 1999.129_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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The object is a Gelede body mask. From bottom to top, its body is a cylindrical form with a protruding abdomen into which two small curved eye holes have been cut. Above the abdomen are hanging breasts. Arms are bent with hands holding a purple and white shawl which is draped around the shoulders. Above the shoulders is a cylindrical neck supporting a helmet mask covered in white pigment with a broad nose and mouth, protruding eyes, and median crest coiffure. There are indigenous repairs along a split in the center of the abdomen at the left side of the back.
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