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Image of Gelede Mask with Superstructure

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unknown Yoruba
Yoruba Primary

Gelede Mask with Superstructure

19th century - 20th century
Carved and drilled wood with pigment and patina

15 3/4 in. x 12 in. x 13 in. (40 cm x 30.5 cm x 33 cm)

Bryn Mawr College
Accession Number: 99.3.16
Other Number(s): 31 (Neufeld Collection Number)
Geography: Africa, Bénin
Classification: Ceremonial and Performance Artifacts; Masks
Culture/Nationality: Yoruba, Beninese, West African, African
Collection: Neufeld Collection
Description: Gelede masks are used in Yoruba society to honor mothers in both the spiritual and living realms. The Yoruba ascribe spiritual, mystical, and magical powers to mothers, who are able to bestow either blessings or curses. As holders of the secret of life, older women are deemed perhaps even more powerful than ancestors or gods.

These masks are used during the annual Gelede ceremonies, which often coincide with the beginning of the agricultural season and are performed to pay tribute to the special power of women and to ensure the well-being of the entire community.

This mask portrays calmness and composure, qualities valued in older women, while the lateral facial bands are associated with scarification patterns, a sign of cultural identity.

Keywords Click a term to view the records with the same keyword
This object has the following keywords:
  • African - Refers to the cultures of the continent of Africa, which is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Beninese - Style and culture of the people of Bénin, particularly of the modern inhabitants. For the style and culture of the more ancient people of southern Nigeria, use "Benin."
  • carvings - Refers to works executed by cutting a figure or design out of a solid material such as stone or wood. It typically refers to works that are relatively small in size, are part of a larger work, or are not considered art. For large and medium-sized three-dimensional works of art, use the broader term "sculpture" or another appropriate term.
  • Gelede - Masquerades held by the secret society named Gelede of the Yoruba people of West Africa, performed by masked, costumed dancers, often impersonating women, for the purpose of placating the older women of the community and encouraging them to use their powers for community well-being; they are held when society members die, and during the society's annual festival, on the afternoon following the nightlong performance of the Efe masquerade.
  • masks - Refers to coverings for all or part of the face, usually with openings for the eyes and sometimes the mouth. They are worn to hide or alter the identity of the wearer or for protection. Masks as cultural objects have been used throughout the world in all periods since the Stone Age. Masks are extremely varied in appearance, function, and fundamental meaning. They may be associated with ceremonies that have religious and social significance or are concerned with funerary customs, fertility rites, or curing sickness. They may be used on festive occasions or to portray characters in a dramatic performance and in re-enactments of mythological events. They may be used for warfare and as protective devices in certain sports. They are also employed as architectural ornaments.
  • painting - The art and practice of applying pigments suspended in water, oil, egg yolk, molten wax, or other liquid to a surface to create an expressive or communicative image. Paint is usually, but not always, applied with a brush. For the application of paint primarily to protect a surface or add a general color, use "painting (coating)."
  • ritual objects - Objects used for a particular ritual activity, often as part of a ceremony.
  • superstructures - Refers to the upper portions of buildings or other structures located above the foundation and usually above ground level.
  • West African - Styles and cultures from the region comprising the westernmost area of the African continent, defined by the United Nations as including the modern nations of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
  • wood - The principal tissue of trees and other plants that provides both strength and a means of conducting nutrients. Wood is one of the most versatile materials known.

Additional Images Click an image to view a larger version
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Exhibition List
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
  • Worlds to Discover: 125 Years of Collections at Bryn Mawr College Bryn Mawr College , Sep 24, 2010 – May 28, 2011

  • Owner Name: Mace Neufeld and Helen Katz Neufeld, Class of 1953
    Role: Donor
    Place: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, US
    Ownership End Date: 12/17/1997

Bibliography List
The following Bibliography exist for this object:
  • Marianne Hansen and Emily Croll. Worlds to Discover. Bryn Mawr College. Bryn Mawr, PA, 2010
    Page Number: 32
  • "African Heritage Document and Research Center." (Accessed June 11, 2020): Record No.: 0180362.

Related Bibliography List
The following Related Bibliography exist for this object:
  • Henry John Drewal, "Gelede Masquerade: Imagery and Motif." African Arts 7, no. 4 (Summer 1974): 8-19, 62-63, 95-96.
  • Margaret Thompson Drewal and Henry John Drewal. "Gelede Dance of the Western Yoruba." African Arts 8, no. 2 (Winter 1975): 36-45, 78-79.
  • Stefan Eisenhofer, ed. Kulte, Künstler, Könige in Afrika: Tradition und Moderne in Südnigeria (Linz, Austria: des Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseums, 1977), 179-188.
  • Babatunde Lawal, The Gẹ̀lẹ̀dé Spectacle (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1996),

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<ref name=BMC>cite web |url= |title=Gelede Mask with Superstructure |author=Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections |accessdate=6/4/2023 |publisher=Bryn Mawr College</ref>

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