About this artwork
This wooden mask, which would have been worn over the head like a helmet, is a superb example of an art form that is found almost exclusively among the Egbado, a subgroup inhabiting the northwestern part of Yourubaland. A gelede is a festival of masks performed in veneration of the society’s powerful older women, the iyami. Egbado Yoruba communities perform gelede annually, at which time they formally recognize the powers of the iyami, and solicit their benevolence to ensure the prosperity of the community.
This mask is typical of what Western museums and galleries display to represent gelede. The actual festival involves street orchestras, a lavish display of wooden and cloth costumes, dance, music, singing, and drama that are designed to entertain the viewers, who are also integrated into the performances. The wooden helmet at the top of the masked dancer’s head is part of a large, mixed-media ensemble, including fabric, beads, seeds, and bones, as well as other sculptural pieces attached to various parts of the masked dancer’s body. This gelede mask represents the outsider, who can be a foreigner or a Yoruba who does not adhere to the cultural norm. Outsider status is indicated by the oblique facial mark across the nose, called baamu. The headgear resembles a stylish type of hat, with two overhanging flaps, called abetiaja, meaning the ears of a dog. These flaps may also represent the wings of birds, which the Yoruba associate with women. The calm look on the mask reflects the cool character of elderly females, who are thought to conceal their power under a cloak of humility, patience, care, and obliviousness.
—Revised from, Moyo Okediji, “Art of the Yoruba,” African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Studies 23, no. 2 (1997), pp. 172-174.
Currently Off View
- Arts of Africa
- Headdress for Gelede (Igi)
- 18.7 x 31.1 x 34.3 cm (7 3/8 x 12 1/4 x 13 1/2 in.)
- Gift of Winter and Hirsch, Inc.