West African (Yoruba) Female Body Mask

   West African Female Body Mask, Yoruba People (detail)
  West African female body mask, Yoruba people (detail)

Masks are all part of a disguise; but not all masks cover the face. Featured is a mask that illustrates this concept perfectly. It is a “body mask” created by the Yoruba people who reside in present day Nigeria. Carved from a single piece of wood and painted, it is then tied onto the torso of male Yoruba dancers who mimic and exaggerate female movements to create an effective illusion, the real purpose of any disguise.

Female Body Mask   
Female body mask

The mask is worn for the Gelede Festival, an elaborate masquerade celebrating the special powers of women, both those who are physically here and those who are not, the ancestors. Collectively and affectionately, all are called “our mothers.”

Ironically, it is the job of men disguised as women to dance vigorously and convincingly so our mothers will bestow their blessings on the community. However, one thing they can’t disguise is this mask, which stands alone as a compelling work of art – here or on the other side of the world in Yoruba land.

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