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    Description

    Yoruba (Nigeria)
    Gelede Helmet and Body Mask Ensemble
    Wood, pigment, metal, cloth, cord
    Helmet: Heigth: 15 ¾ inches Width: 15 inches Depth: 16 inches
    Body: Height: 19 inches Width: 17 ¼ inches Depth: 21 ½ inches

    "Among the western Yoruba, nocturnal and diurnal masquerade performances (Efe and Gelede) honor the awesome spiritual powers of elderly women known as 'our mothers' (awon iya wa). Touching upon virtually all aspects of Yoruba life and thought, Efe/Gelede imagery entertains, enthralls, and enlightens the community - "the children of our mothers" (H. Drewal, 1974 p.6)." (Henry Drewal in Susan Vogel, ed. For Spirits and Kings, African Art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981, p.115).
    While most Gelede characters are female, the masked impersonators are always male. Since the dances are vigorous and rapid, and many of the headdress masks heavy, young men are the chosen performers. The extraordinary example here, with its elaborate body mask, would be especially taxing to perform. Since most Gelede dances are done by paired dancers, is probable that another ensemble such as this once existed.
    In a letter to Mr. Slater, John Pemberton III notes that: "The stylization of the facial features on the headdress suggest a Ketu origin, whether from the Nigerian or Benin side is impossible to say ... This type of headdress is known as Oro Efe. It appears on the first night of the Gelede festival."
    While Efe/Gelede honors the mothers, many of the presentations contain a considerable element of usually good natured satire. Here the plump, child-burdened mother, as if the load of three children were not enough, carries on her head a tangle of metaphorical creatures, ensnarled in their own convoluted interaction. The main, human head of this elaborate helmet mask is almost hidden by a crown-like openwork "cage" comprised of lizards, snakes, birds, fish, and chameleons. John Pemberton mentions that: "On the right and left sides of the headdress are images of a knife and spear, the materials of human aggression, and flashlights, which enable one to see in the dark." At the bottom sides and back of this are three small relief-carved, looped snakes. Inside the cage, resting on a central post attached to the helmet's head, are long-bodied, crossing animals, their bodies fusing at the crossing. The front-to-back animal rests on its paws and looks out an arched space above the opening for the helmet's face. This animal's tail is in the mouth of a lizard which forms part of the cage. The side-to-side animal is janus-headed, with head and paws at either side looking through arched openings in the cage. This tour-de-force of carving is made from a single block of wood.
    Unlike the helmet, the body component is made from a number of separate parts. Onto the main torso, three children cling precariously, two in front and one in the back. Their arms and legs were carved separately and attached to rough-hewn bodies. All three separately-made heads are inserted with a spike into the neck area. It is likely that these were mobile enough to move during the dance. The two front heads are by one carver and the back one by another. Traces of cloth suggest that the children may originally have been dressed. The articulated parts of this body component would have been moved with cords pulled by the wearer during the dance. Regarding the ultimate effect of this mask in use, Pemberton says: "Like a woman's gele, it is a fascinating spectacle, but at the same time troubling, to the onlooker revealing an inner reality, a power which must be acknowledged and honored, even though feared. Such is the inner authority of women in Yoruba society."
    The helmet has a crack in the proper left cheek of the main helmet head, as well as losses in the body of the central interior animal just in front of the central crossing point. The body has numerous minor abrasions and a few small chips. A piece is missing from the proper right body of the rear figure.
    This lot is sold with a copy of a lengthy descriptive and interpretive letter regarding the mask ensemble addressed to Thomas D. Slater by noted Yoruba specialist John Pemberton III.

    Provenance: Thomas D. Slater, Indianapolis
    Gary Hendershott, Little Rock and Santa Fe



    Estimate: $35,000 - $45,000.

    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2007
    7th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,049

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