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Ode-Lay Mask

Arts of Africa

Becoming New

Masquerade is to some extent always “new.” Each performance varies in response to changes in setting, music, costume, audience, and the performers’ movements. However, circumstances sometimes require the invention of totally new types of masquerade to address new issues.

Ode-lay is a uniquely urban form of masquerade that developed in Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown. This mask likely has its origins in the 1960s or ‘70s, when new genres of film, particularly those from or about Asia, inspired novel mask creations. The crowned central figure on this mask, flanked by two pairs of sinuous snarling serpents, may be directly related to the kung fu movies of the period. The imagery of this mask may also recall that of Mami Wata, a pan-African water goddess recognized throughout West Africa and the Caribbean, whose roots lie in the local adaptation of imagery drawing from India, the Pacific, and Europe.

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. The full-body example seen here is a highly unusual artistic reinvention of the gelede form; only about half a dozen are known in Western collections.
CULTURE Temne
MEDIUM Wood, paint, plastic, metal
  • Place Made: Freetown
  • DATES mid-20th century
    DIMENSIONS 29 1/2 x 16 15/16 x 8 1/4 in. (75 x 43 x 21 cm) with mount approx: 34 in. (86.4 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 2013.25
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Milton Gross, by exchange
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Temne. Ode-Lay Mask, mid-20th century. Wood, paint, plastic, metal, 29 1/2 x 16 15/16 x 8 1/4 in. (75 x 43 x 21 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Milton Gross, by exchange, 2013.25. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2013.25_PS9.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 2013.25_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Mask with a human face as a base, from which all sculptural elements are attached. A figure sits at the top of the head; two sets of dragons flank the base. The taller pair, whose heads are separately carved in wood, have crenelated crests. The shorter, lower pair are blunt-nosed and connected by metal wire to the taller pair. Several layers of commercial paint in various colors have been applied to the entire object, with spotted colors of red, blue, yellow, and white painted to both sides of the dragon pairs. The interior of the mask is not painted, with some signs of wear. The crested section on the exterior back of the base has a hole.
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    Temne. <em>Ode-Lay Mask</em>, mid-20th century. Wood, paint, plastic, metal, 29 1/2 x 16 15/16 x 8 1/4 in. (75 x 43 x 21 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Milton Gross, by exchange, 2013.25. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2013.25_PS9.jpg)

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