This mask would have been worn by a woman in the powerful, all-female Sande society, a group in Sierra Leone through which many women were educated and exercised their political, religious, and social power. The society provided members with a lifelong network and also was an important sponsor of masquerades, which were performed to mark significant events in society, such as funerals, visits from honored guests, or initiation ceremonies.
In masquerade costume, the Sande women represented the spirit that animated and supported their organization. The masks were worn with costumes of blackened raffia fibers and exemplified the physical and spiritual beauty that was the Sande ideal. The deep, shiny black surface recalls the smooth skin of young initiates and the downcast eyes, scarification marks, demure mouth, and styled hair communicate dignity and composure. The neck rings and a high forehead also add to the mask’s beauty. The hairstyle is elaborately embellished with cowrie shells, a diamond-shaped amulet, horns, male and female figures, and a bird. The cowrie shells indicate wealth and status, the amulet and horns serve as traditional containers for protective medicines, and the bird represents a messenger to the spirit world. In the 1990s, Sierra Leone’s civil war ended these practices.
This mask is on view now in Gallery 137.
Image Credit: Mask for Sande Society (Ndoli Jowei), Early/mid-20th century (before 1940). Sierra Leone. Through prior acquisitions of the George F. Harding Collection, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert R. Molner, and the Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment.
21 hours 20 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Abstract Experiments: Latin American Art on Paper after 1950
During the mid-20th century, Latin American artists were active in the evolving international discourse on modernity, at a time of industrial expansion and political transformation in South America.
Abstract Experiments provides an illuminating complement to Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium and reflects the Art Institute’s recent efforts to expand its holdings of Latin American painting, sculpture, and works on paper.
1 day 15 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium
The Art Institute presents the first U.S. retrospective of this groundbreaking Brazilian artist. A relentless innovator always pushing the boundaries of art, Oiticica is arguably the most influential Latin American artist of the post–World War II period and is recognized for inspiring Tropicália, a powerful movement that influenced art across media in Brazil.
In addition to viewing his early works on paper, visitors are invited to take off their shoes and walk through immersive sand-filled installations, view Amazonian parrots, and try on wearable objects designed by the artist.
1 day 16 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago Whitney will be taking over our Instagram for the next 24 hours. Follow along to see posts from Max and Julien’s visit to the museum.