Masks in African culture are important because they express a wide scope of spirituality. African culture portrays the struggle of mankind to find harmonies through traditional ceremonies masks are worn to connect people to the gods. Magic, which is one of the components that completes the society in the Parrinder model, is shown in Yoruba culture where the Gelede masks are said to protect man from witches by supernatural means which involves magic, sculptures, and dance. The Gelede mask that is on display in the James E. Lewis Museum of Art has animal and human features, which represent the spirits of the ancestors.
They are mostly worn by men and are used to invite their ancestral spirits to participate in ceremonies like initiation, birth, naming, weddings, and funerals. The spiritual connection conveyed by the wearing of the masks during the ceremonies is vital because it fulfils the society’s order. Masks have particular significance in the cultural practices of the Yoruba tribe in Africa. There are masks of Yoruba culture on display in the James E. Lewis Museum of Art.
The most common Yoruba exhibits are the Gelede masks, which are “colorful masks worn by men. They combine art and ritual dance to amuse, educate, and inspire worship” (History of Masks). They are sculpted to honor the power of women. During Gelede ceremonies, elderly women in the society and ancestors are especially honored. The Gelede people believe that “elder women possess powers that are superior to the powers of the deities” (James E. Lewis Museum of Art). Women have the power to bring and take life and the Yoruba people show their appreciation and respect by holding the Gelede ceremonies to honor the women.
The cultural and religious practices are revealed in African culture through the sculpted masks. The Dogon Kanaga masks found in Mali, resemble a cross with short bars at the top and the bottom piece representing the creator god. Dogons worship one god called Amma to whom they pray with their arms outstretched. Dogon religion is parallel to the Judeo-Christian tradition, which also advocates the worship of one supreme God who is at the top of the Parrinder model. In this type of culture, the supreme God controls everything.
In addition, Dogon Kanaga masks are used for religious and burial rituals. These masks are used during the Dama dance. The people are said to believe that the “Dama dance creates a bridge into the supernatural world and without the dance, the dead are not able to cross over in peace” (History of Masks). The religious practices observed by the African people help to connect them to the gods. African artists use their skill and creativity to incorporate various ideas and meanings into the artwork.
This is seen in mask-making, which is often passed on from father to son along with the knowledge of the symbolic meanings conveyed by the masks. African artists use their abilities and imagination to incorporate different ideas and meanings into their artwork. The continuity of mask-making in African culture reveals that Africans are people who observe their culture and do their best to sustain it for generations therefore, the art in the museum counteracts the perception that Africans are primitive and uncultured.
The beautiful art on display is an example of the skill and craftsmanship required to create artwork. The facial expressions and texture reveal the meaning of various pieces of art. Head sculptures tend to be elongated, which could symbolize that the head is the center of character, thoughts, and emotions. The museum shows that the Kuba people possess a mask, referred to as Ngady a Mwaash. The Ngady a Mwaash mask is worn to honor the Kuba King and to promote the cultural role of women in the society.
The materials used in making specific art pieces demonstrate the occasions for which the masks are used. Masks made of clay or wood are most likely used in ritual ceremonies. In conclusion, the cultural exhibits at the James E. lewis Museum of Art show Africa is a cultured society that observes and preserves its culture. African art combines all the components of the Parrinder model to highlight the harmony, traditions, and beliefs of the people. The harmony is obtained when particular mask dances are performed to welcome the spirits and gods.
The appearances of the masks reveal their purposes. Some are used for religious purposes while others are used for entertainment. African art also reveals a great deal about cultural, traditional, and spiritual beliefs. African people mainly preserve their culture by passing the skills they have learned to the generations to come. Arts pieces are gathered and presented in museums in order to sustain their value. The ideas and meanings behind these works of art are cherished and passed on through oral and visual traditions to the next generations.