the yearly masquerade performed by the Gelede tribe of Yorubaland
(in modern-day Nigeria) older Yoruba women were referred to
as both our mothers and witchesnurturers
female presence was seen as a very powerful one in African societies,
says Jessica Stephenson 00G,
associate curator of African and Ancient American Art. These
ceremonies were meant to honor their power and to invoke the
protection of the spirits.
masks from Nigeria, the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are
on display in the Michael
C. Carlos Museums third floor Sutker Galleries, a
renovated space that will be devoted to displaying items from
the museums permanent collection of West and Central African
masks portray a wide representation of female beauty and spiritualitydecorative
scars, elongated necks, condensed features. As in Elizabethan
plays or Greek dramas, many were worn by male dancers impersonating
males also wore [body] costumes with female attributes, like
fake breasts, and dance movements such as the swaying of the
hips were exaggerated, Stephenson says.
Sande tribal masks, however, were worn by women during the initiation
of young girls into womanhood. They were worn at harvest
time, during fertility rituals, and at ceremonial plays,
Stephenson says. Some of the rituals were quite serious, others
were more for entertainment, with the masks styled accordingly.
regal mask has an elaborate hair weaving designed to mimic the
British crown, from the period when Sierra Leone was a colony
of England. In another, a braid merges with a snake, meant to
symbolize a water spirit coming to claim his bride. The deep
ebony shine of the wood evokes water, and the masks were repainted
often to maintain their luster.
male presence is not altogether missing from the exhibit: a
Mande tribal hunting jacket is included, decorated with wild
boar tusks, raptor claws, and antelope horns as protective amulets
and to signify the hunters prowess.
jacket was too heavy to wear while hunting, but he would wear
it during festivals or ceremonies, Stephenson says. Basically,
the hunter was wearing his curriculum vitae, his whole professional
Michael C. Carlos Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10
a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday evenings until 9. It is closed
Monday and University holidays. The museum is on the Quadrangle,
near the main campus entrance off North Decatur Road. Visitor
parking is available nearby. Admission is a $5 donation.