Cloth, glass beads, cowrie shells, thread, wood, burlap, leather, plant fiber
H: 160 cm, W: 75 cm D: 21 cm (H: 62.9 in, W: 29.5 in, D: 8.2 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Hammer. X90.694
Yoruba peoples honor the memory of their ancestors in dazzling multimedia masking spectacles combining the kinetic impact of dance, the oral/aural power of song and incantation, and the visual impact of swirling cloth, wood, skins, shells, and beads. Lineage members sacrifice much to be able to create masking ensembles worthy of beloved ancestors. They may save resources for many months or even years in order to prepare an Egungun ensemble that admirably conveys the pomp and power the status and magnificence, the “famosity beyond comparison” of their family line. Everyone contributes to this effort. Those who are musically gifted will compose new songs of praise and practice ones heard over many years of performances. Those with money will buy rich fabrics–from the ancient prestige handwoven strip cloth (aso oke) to the newest, most fashionable textiles from Hong Kong, Bombay, Paris, London, Rome, and New York. The diversity and rarity of the cloth proclaims both the family’s sophisticated wordliness in the present, and its devotion to honoring otherwordly presences and glorifying the past (see fig. 323 of this publication). The beads in this ensemble signify a grandly successful celebratory effort. Sometimes they indicate that the masker comes from a royal lineage but not always, since orisa priests, chiefs, certain elders, and diviners may also wear and use them in their ancestral ensembles (see figs. 1 and 20 of this publication). Appropriately, the beads cluster around the head of the masker, like another kind of crown. The face panel, usually cloth surrounding a striped crochet netting, has been made entirely of beads; the small rectangular beaded netting at the center allows the performer to see out, while preventing the audience from seeing in. The composition is a dramatically abstracted face (a central vertical panel for the nose, vertical stripes evocative of facial marks of lineage identity, a bisected triangle where a mouth might be, and circular segments at the sides, perhaps suggesting ears). Above and below are other sections with variations on the interlace or ebo motif. Abstraction and transformation dominate this representation of an ancestral “being from beyond” (ara orun). Perceptual reality is replaced by a conceptual one centered on the theme of transcendence. Besides the face panel, there are other beaded pieces. Two panels of cowries flank the face panel, four rows in one and five in the other. Both the beads and the cowries connote prosperity and good fortune generally. among the smaller flaps layered above the head are some beaded ones decorated with rows of triangles. A single panel is suspended from below the face panel in front. in back, three beaded panels cover the head and two others fall from the shoulders. All have variants of the interlace pattern done in an unusually loose, lively, and irregular style. The pattern energizes further an already dynamic surface consisting of myriad patterned cloths trimmed with sawtooth/triangular border; the two-dimensional cones (triangles) are signs of birth, life, and the afterlife.
Source: Drewal, H., Mason, J. (1998). “Beads, Body, and Soul – Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe”, Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 266-268