Blog: Gelede Masquerade, Imagery and Motif

This article looks at the ways in which the Gelede masks reflect Yoruba culture. The author maps the artistry of particular masks and then explains how these details correlate to specific structures and events within society. The Gelede is an ‘expression of the concerns of the people – “the children”-’ of the society, through the worship or celebration of ‘mothers.’ The concept of ‘Mothers’ is central to understanding this article, and I will summarise what I have understood: To start with mothers are deities capable of good and bad, secondly they are a representation of the mysteries of womanhood, finally, as life is impossible without a mother the universe commences with the mother and therefore, it is the children of the mother that fills society. Using this as a starting point, we can see how the Gelede masks are all encompassing, as they fill the spectrum of Yoruba culture.
I shall outline examples of some of the masks to show how far reaching the masks can be. One artist makes their mask with hair that replicates the architectural structure of a bridge in Lagos. This is interesting to me as it shows the contemporary nature of some of the masks. Another type of mask is that of animals. These often represent the hierarchies of animal in Yoruba culture. Here, we see how distinctly traditional the masks can be. Comparing these two different masks we can get an idea of how wide the range of mask can encapsulate. It is also interesting to note how quintessentially traditional these masks can be, but still hold very modern connotation too. It is this duality that I found most compelling in the article.
The masks are there to reinforce traditional Yoruba values and beliefs, but they are also a commentary on what is happening around them in the present. The Gelede is a mechanism of rejoicing in the culture, but also used as a satire on culture, or more precisely deviations from culture. In this respect the Gelede really do encompass all aspects of life, the traditional and the modern, this is achieved through mothers (the beginning and omnipresent) and the ongoing changes of the children.


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