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Mask for the Ordehlay (Ode-Lay) or Jollay Society

Arts of Africa

A kotu (masquerade builder) made this mask for a Freetown cultural society, a kind of mutual aid association. These masquerades emerged from Yorùbá practices transplanted from Nigeria during World War I. Cultural (or masquerade) societies and the neighborhoods they support pride themselves on innovation. Like the city of Freetown itself, masquerade-society masks have evolved to reflect new, international influences. The mask’s face shape and “fancy” aesthetic suggest it was created for entertainment. Its dragons reflect the former popularity of Chinese movies and martial arts in Freetown. The snakes likely allude to the transcultural water spirit Mami Wata. Though her origins probably pre-date European contact, her snake-charmer persona draws heavily from a 1955 Indian lithographic reproduction of German posters of nineteenth century Samoan circus performer Maladamatjaute. Just as the Greek-Egyptian god Serapis’ cult spread widely, Freetown masquerades are now performed on both sides of the Atlantic.
MEDIUM Wood, paint, plastic, metal
DATES mid-20th century
DIMENSIONS 29 1/2 x 16 15/16 x 8 1/4 in. (75 x 43 x 21 cm) with mount approx: 34 in. (86.4 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
ACCESSION NUMBER 2013.25
CREDIT LINE Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Milton Gross, by exchange
RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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CAPTION Temne artist. Mask for the Ordehlay (Ode-Lay) or Jollay Society, mid-20th century. Wood, paint, plastic, metal, 29 1/2 x 16 15/16 x 8 1/4 in. (75 x 43 x 21 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Milton Gross, by exchange, 2013.25. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2013.25_PS9.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 2013.25_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
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CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Mask with a human face as a base, from which all sculptural elements are attached. A figure sits at the top of the head; two sets of dragons flank the base. The taller pair, whose heads are separately carved in wood, have crenelated crests. The shorter, lower pair are blunt-nosed and connected by metal wire to the taller pair. Several layers of commercial paint in various colors have been applied to the entire object, with spotted colors of red, blue, yellow, and white painted to both sides of the dragon pairs. The interior of the mask is not painted, with some signs of wear. The crested section on the exterior back of the base has a hole.
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Temne artist. <em>Mask for the Ordehlay (Ode-Lay) or Jollay Society</em>, mid-20th century. Wood, paint, plastic, metal, 29 1/2 x 16 15/16 x 8 1/4 in. (75 x 43 x 21 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Milton Gross, by exchange, 2013.25. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2013.25_PS9.jpg)

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