230931 - Old Yoruba Gelede Head mask - Nigeria.


Old African Geleda Head mask from the Yoruba, Nigeria.

Carved from a single piece of wood, with color pigments.

Height: 31 cm x 26 cm. This mask is collected in 1930f rom the first half of the 20th century collected from a Belgium collector in 1931 and purchased in my private collection in 2007, with a certificate of authenticity.

This Gelede wooden headdress is carved from a single piece of light wood. The human face appears to represents a male. It is carved with the classical Yoruba facial features: heavy eyelids, bulgy almond-shaped eyes, flared nose and compressed full lips. The pupils and nostrils are roughly pierced with circular holes. Three scarification lines are incised on the forehead and both cheeks. They are stained in black. These scarification lines are called pele, which many communities in south-western Yorubaland regard as ‘gems’ on the human face. The ears are shaped like question marks. Overall, the facial features exemplify supremacy, rigour and calm.

This Gelede mask comes from the Yoruba who live along the boundary between southwestern Nigeria and present-day Benin (Dahomey). The Gelede form is clear here: the downward-facing gaze and subtle scarification on the cheeks accompanied by the round forehead. Gelede masks are often decorated with animals or other motifs on top.The Yoruba are known to apply colorful pigments to their facial features, too.

Among the Yoruba Gelede masks dance of the ‘mothers’, good witches who propitiate and control the power of the ‘bad’ witches who fly at night causing human misfortune, illness, and death. When Gelede appears, they dance in pairs in a tightly structured and complexly choreographed dance accompanied by singing and drumming. Most ‘witch-catching’ Gelede masks are carved from a single piece of wood to be worn on the top of the head over the forehead with a multicolored costume made up of numerous panels of brightly colored cloth completely covering the body from head to foot. The panels of cloth will flare outwards while being danced giving the dancer a dynamic appearance. Gelede performances may extend over several days with different dance forms and movements. When performing the masks dance as a coordinated pair often with mirror-like movements during an athletic and vigorous dance that often interacts with the audience. Their energetic dance steps will often kick up the dust so that they appear to float above the earth and the anklet bells that they wear reinforce the rhythm of the music. Gelede masks will also reflect local traditions of facial marking and symbolic headdresses whereas this example brings to mind the beautiful and classic sculpted heads of ancient Ife