Collections: Arts of Africa: 'Elvis' Mask for Nyau Society

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    'Elvis' Mask for Nyau Society

    Although most of the cultures represented in African Innovations have changed dramatically since the works were first created, genres such as masquerade persist in many regions, where they adapt to an ever more interconnected world. This mask for the Nyau society, a Chewa institution that governs the spiritual realm of death and the ancestors, depicts Elvis Presley.

    Historically, all Chewa men belonged to the secret Nyau society. The society’s masks represent the spirits of the deceased, but they may also represent wild bush spirits or caricature personalities from the wider community. Outsiders—including Swahili slave traders, British officials, the Virgin Mary, and other iconic foreigners such as Elvis Presley—have been considered representative of antisocial traits and undesirable values.

    • Culture: Chewa
    • Medium: Wood, paint, fiber, cloth
    • Place Made: Central or Southern Region, Malawi
    • Dates: ca. 1977
    • Dimensions: 11 x 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (27.9 x 24.1 x 18.4 cm)  (show scale)
    • Collections:Arts of Africa
    • Museum Location: This item is on view in South Gallery, 1st Floor
    • Exhibitions:
    • Accession Number: 2010.41
    • Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas III, Frederick E. Ossorio, and Elliot Picket, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund
    • Rights Statement: Creative Commons-BY
    • Caption: Chewa. 'Elvis' Mask for Nyau Society, ca. 1977. Wood, paint, fiber, cloth, 11 x 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (27.9 x 24.1 x 18.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas III, Frederick E. Ossorio, and Elliot Picket, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2010.41. Creative Commons-BY
    • Image: overall, 2010.41_PS6.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2011
    • Catalogue Description: The object is a mask decorated to look like Elvis, carved from a single piece of wood with the eyes, mouth and nostrils pierced through; on the interior, tool marks are clearly visible. Synthetic hair has been attached around the open back of the head and defines the hair and sideburns as well as the eyes and eyebrows. A fairly thick layer of pink paint has been applied over the front of the mask and over the edges of the hair. The bottom edge and interior of the mask are not painted. Darker pink is present on selected areas of the cheeks, forehead and chin. The lips are painted red. Various textiles and burlap are attached around the edges with natural fiber twine through a series of holes in the wood and to each other with plastic-like thread. A strip of burlap is attached around the entire edge of the mask and a strip of knitted black material is applied over the burlap along the bottom edge. A beige textile with a light brown floral pattern is attached on top of the burlap and knitted fabric around the entire bottom edge and is stitched together in various places with the plastic thread. A strip of a red, blue and white checkered material is tied around the hair at the back of the head on the interior. Sections of the hair are also tied together with the plastic thread. Pieces of teal and purple yarn are also strung to the back of the head on the exterior. Patches of white material (paper?) with circular openings have been applied to inside behind eyes to create the whites of the eyes, which are visible from the front.
    • Record Completeness: Best (83%)
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