Gelede Helmet Mask of a Gendarme
Arts of Africa
ART OF SATIRE
Masks are particularly useful for expressing disapproval and thus reinforcing communal values. These two masks performed instructional and critical messages about proper behavior and political discontent.
Male Yoruba dancers wear gelede masks at festivals honoring the women of the community. Gelede often serves as a showcase for artistic innovation, with its masks depicting motifs that are both entertaining and critical. This mask depicts a French gendarme, a colonial soldier, and was most likely performed as a critique of French personal and political behavior during the colonial period.
The mask depicting Elvis Presley belonged to the Nyau society (to which all Chewa men belong), an institution that governs the spiritual realm of death and the ancestors. The society’s masks always 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.
Wood, metal, pigment
early 20th century
10 x 7 x 11 in. (25.4 x 17.8 x 27.9 cm) (show scale)
This item is not on view
Gift of Eugene and Harriet Becker
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Yoruba. Gelede Helmet Mask of a Gendarme, early 20th century. Wood, metal, pigment, 10 x 7 x 11 in. (25.4 x 17.8 x 27.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Eugene and Harriet Becker, 1991.226.3. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1991.226.3_SL3.jpg)
overall, 1991.226.3_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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