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Helmet Mask

African Art

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Helmet Mask

Artwork Details

Artist/Maker

Mende Artist, Sierra Leone

Date

ca. 1875–1925

Medium

Wood

Accession #

72.40.22

Dimensions

14 3/4 inches

Location

Currently Not on View

Description

In Mende communities of the tropical forests of Sierra Leone, unlike elsewhere in Africa, both men and women dance masks. Helmet masks called sowei are worn by members of the exclusively female Sande society—a politically powerful women’s organization—to teach young girls how to be good wives and mothers and productive community members. Sowei helmet masks represent one of the few instances in which masks are used exclusively by and for African women. They represent Mende ideals of feminine beauty. The lustrous black surface of this mask is richly textured. It wears a British-style royal crown and has a full, ringed neck decorated with rows of carved Islamic amulets. Its delicately detailed, diamond-shaped face is surrounded by an elaborately interwoven coiffure.

Credit

Fred and Rita Richman Collection

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