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Installation view. Photo: Paul Litherland
Cap Mask of the Gelede Society, Yoruba peoples, Nigeria, 20th century, wood. Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984 (M84-223) Photo: Synthescape
Photo: Paul Litherland
Photo: Paul Litherland
Protection and Social Harmony in the Art of West and Central Africa
African Gallery
21 September 2013–6 December 2015

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Objects used as instruments of protection and social harmony are found in many African societies. The Cap Mask of the Gelede Society, pictured here, was commissioned for an annual festival to honour “Our Mothers”: female deities, ancestors and leaders of the community. Perceived by the Yoruba as holding the secret of life, women must be appeased to foster social order and prosperity. The elaborate two-day masquerade, comprising sculpture, dance and song, ensures that women’s special powers will function for communal benefit.

Selected from the impressive Justin and Elisabeth Lang Collection of African Art, this exhibition explores the themes of protection and social harmony. These masks and free-standing sculptures originate from diverse cultural groups whose borders often cross the political boundaries of presentday west and central Africa. All display visual power that reinforces their important social role.

The Collections section of our website now features digital images of most objects from the Lang Collection. The Cap Mask of the Gelede Society is one of twenty-five works viewable in three dimensions. Many of the objects in the online gallery also have short informative texts to enhance viewers’ appreciation of African art.

Pat Sullivan

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