Yoruba Gelede Mask

Gelede Mask webxThe 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.

Chinese Christmas Card

Christmas Card

This Christmas card comes from the collection of Marion Dudley, who was a missionary with the YWCA. She lived and worked in China from the mid-1920s until World War II. The card includes images of men lighting firecrackers and a traditional Chinese dragon dance. These activities are usually associated with Chinese New Year, which falls in late January or early February depending on the lunar calendar. The dragon dance brings good luck for the coming year, while the firecrackers scare away evil spirits. In this case, these traditional festive images are adopted to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Côte d’Ivoire Toy Car

Toy Car webx

This toy car was made by a boy of about 10 years old in Ouassou, Côte d’Ivoire, in the late 1990s.  Cars like this one are made by youths in many parts of Africa using whatever materials are available, such as the sandal soles cut to make the wheels on this car.  The car is in the shape of Peugeot minivan, likely modeled after one of the many used vehicles shipped to Côte d’Ivoire to serve as “bush taxis.”  These vehicles stop to pick up passengers as they make circuits through major cities, or as they cruise the roadways between rural towns.  This object is on exhibit in our new student-curated permanent exhibit, Childhood: Exploring Youth Culture Around the World.  Anthropology student Maeghan Livingston researched this object for the exhibit.  The accompanying photos, taken by former MOA curator, Beverlye Hancock, show the toy being made and used in Côte d’Ivoire.

Toy Car Used2 webx

Toy Car Used webx

Egyptian Mummy Casing


This outer case, or coffin, of a mummy was created by applying plaster on top of layers of cloth and then painting the plaster. After a body underwent preservation processes, it was put into this type of coffin. The Egyptians were firm believers of the afterlife and viewed the process of mummification as necessary to ensure their arrival to the next world. It was typical for the wealthy class to have elaborately decorated mummy cases that were painted with Egyptian gods or other religious symbols. On this piece, Ra, the sun god, and the most important god in the Egyptian pantheon, is represented in the upper left. The figure in the upper right is Nepthys, a protective goddess of the dead. Anubis, son of Nepthys and the god of embalming and the dead, is in the lower left corner. Anubis watches over the mummification process, so it is particularly fitting that he appear on a mummy casing.  This fascinating artifact is currently on exhibit in MOA’s Cabinet of Curiosities.


Brass Leopards

leopards3 webleopards web













Large brass statues, such as these leopards, were owned by royalty in the Bamun (also spelled Bamum) kingdom, located in the Grasslands of Cameroon.  Brass leopards enhanced the prestige of the king, known as the Fon, as it was his privilege to use images of leopards to mark his position. Depictions of leopards also appear in beaded art, thrones, stools, and other royal objects.  Wealth was also indicated by the possession of live leopards kept in the king’s compound.  Bamun society is very hierarchical and is organized around the Fon, making the markers of his superiority very prominent.  Today, these leopards mark the entrance to our summer exhibit, MOA’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

Palestinian Drum

Palestine Drum webx

This type of Middle Eastern goblet drum is used across the region and is referred to by many names: tabla/tablah, darbouka/darboukah/darbukkah/derbouka, or tombek/doumbek. This example is Palestinian and was made in Jordan in the 20th century. The body of the drum is wheel-thrown glazed ceramic with a stretched animal hide creating the drum head. A piece of plastic twine is used to attached the hide and tighten it as needed. In general, this style of drum is held under one arm or laid on its side over one leg to be played. This example is made in the Egyptian style, which means that it has rounded edges on the head, as compared to the Turkish style which has a raised rim. The different designs allow for slight variations in the playing technique.

This drum was made to be used in wedding ceremonies. The glaze shows hand prints and the Arabic word “Mabruk,” which means congratulations, especially in the context of a wedding. The drum is used as accompaniment to dabke, a folk circle dance that is traditionally performed at Arabic weddings and other joyous occasions.