February 2, 2016
The Yoruba peoples are found in the West African countries of Nigeria and Benin. They consist of many distinct ethnicities, but are united by similar languages, common religious practices, and shared history.
This Yoruba mask was used as part of the Gelede masquerade celebrating female ancestors and elderly women. For the Yoruba, mask performances, along with music and dancing, are a way of recognizing female status. Without the kind of attention provided by such spectacle, the spirit world is thought to lash out and punish the living.
Gelede masks are composed of two parts: the head and the superstructure. The head is the abstracted and idealized feminine face. Its expression is serene, demonstrating the timelessness of the spirit world. In contrast, the superstructure represents the ever-changing physical world. Its forms update with new trends and fads. This mask features a leopard, a symbol of power. This type of mask is worn on top of the head, with a veil covering the dancer’s face. This mask is on display in the MOA’s newest exhibit, Death at the Crossroads: A Dramatic Reading of Yoruba Art.