Helmet Mask

16758769-2010_030_001_Epa_ARC.tif

Title

Helmet Mask

Keywords

Ceremonial costume, effigy, mask, scultpure

Date

late 19th Century

Context

Sierra Leone
Sherbro-Mende

Medium/Dimensions

Wood
15 3/4 x 7 x 9 3/4 in. (40 x 17.8 x 24.8 cm)

Object Number

2010.030.001

Description

Masks called Sowo (pl. Sowei) or Bondo, are commissioned and worn by female members of the Gola, Temne, and Mende Sande societies in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Sande society is responsible for the instruction of young girls into adulthood. This process occurs in the forest under the guidance of senior Sande members and Sowo or Bondo nature spirits. Once they have learned basic female values and trained for marriage, domestic life, and religious, economic, and political pursuits, the girls are integrated back into the village as women. On this festive occasion they are accompanied by Sowei masqueraders.

Although owned by women, Sande masks are carved by male artists who work in dialogue with their personal neme spirit, as well as the individual Sowo spirit that will inhabit the mask during masquerade performances. While carving is not always a professionalized specialty, artists are considered exceptional people and are called yun go gwa, "a dreamer". A dreamer's neme spirit bestows gifts of talent and greatness, though often at a price.

An artist demonstrates his relationship with the supernatural by making visible in his art that which he has dreamed. When a Sande society member commissions a mask, she reveals to the artist the name of the individual Sande spirit to inhabit it. The artist then secludes himself in the forest, the realm of Sande spirits, to visualize through dreams the personality of the spirit that will inhabit the mask. The mask must be refined and aesthetically pleasing, or the spirit will not enter it. Small facial features, rings round the neck, a broad forehead, beautiful hairstyles, and a dark shiny surface are the aesthetic ideals favored by Sande spirits. Each mask also makes visible the halei, (powerful medicine of Sowo spirits) through carved horns and amulets.

Credit Line

Gift of Sue Trotter

Exhibits/Publications

Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 5 - December 4, 2011
MCCM Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2011.

Rights

© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White 2010.
This image is provided by the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, who retains all rights in it. This image is made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined by United States law. For all other uses, please contact the Michael C. Carlos Museum Office of Collections Services at +1(404) 727-4282 or mccm.collections.services@emory.edu. Users must cite the author and source of the image as they would material from any printed work, but not in any way that implies endorsement of the user or the user's use of the image. Users may not remove any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices, including without limitation attribution information, credits, and copyright notices that have been placed on or near the image by the Museum. The Museum assumes no responsibility for royalties or fees claimed by the artist or third parties. The User agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Emory University, its Michael C. Carlos Museum, its agents, employees, faculty members, students and trustees from and against any and all claims, losses, actions, damages, expenses, and all other liabilities, including but not limited to attorney’s fees, directly or indirectly arising out of or resulting from its use of photographic images for which permission is granted hereunder.

On View

No

Citation

“Helmet Mask,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed January 18, 2018, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/7096.

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