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(Nigerian, Yorùbá peoples, 1880–1960)
Wood and paint
Overall: 77.7 cm (30 9/16 in.)
Gift of Katherine C. White 1975.168.1
Men in the Gẹ̀lẹ̀dé society performed paired masks like these during annual masquerades honoring Ìyá Nlá (Great Mother). The event demonstrates respect for motherhood and female power within a male-dominated society. These gẹ̀lẹ̀dé masks depict idealized “beautiful maidens” with crocodiles perched atop their head ties. Such dangerous reptiles were linked to witches and the thunder god; their jointed tails swung realistically during performance. Multiple paint layers show how these masks were repainted to keep them looking fresh. Masks like these gained Duga his reputation as Mẹkọ’s best sculptor and a noted early 20th-century Yoruba artist.
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