The Importance Of The Helmet Mask In African Art

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The African mask has appeared in various forms and has been adapted in countless ways in Western art as a typification of ceremonial masquerade. In the 2016 Brooklyn Museum exhibition titled Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, twenty-five contemporary artists attempted to bridge the gap between mask and masquerade by both historically contextualizing and re-creating the part that the African mask and masquerade play today.
The Helmet Mask (Gbetu) with Raffia Costume was created during the early to mid-20th century. The unidentified Gola artist utilized wood, pigment, metal, and raffia to create the work. The dimensions of the work are 93 by 48 inches, or 236.2 by 121.9 centimeters. The work was created in Grand Cape Mount or Lofa County,
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During initiation ceremonies, which serve as ceremonies to welcome young women into the society, performers wearing masks will appear, as well as on many other special social occasions. While both types of masks are worn during these ceremonies, as well as on other special occasions, their stylistic characteristics differ. The extent of the importance that these masks play during initiation ceremonies differ as well. The gbetu, also known as the bowu, is a helmet-shaped wooden mask which resembles the Bundu masks, also known as the sowei masks, of the Sande Society. The key difference between the two masks is that the gbetu has a long-ringed neck with a small head at the top, while the Bundu masks do not have a long-ringed neck and the head is much larger and more prominent. The helmet portion of the gbetu mask is usually carved with faces, while the base depicts various arrangements of geometric motifs. Although gbetu masks appear during the initiation period, they do not play a major ceremonial role during this period. On the other hand, Bundu masks serve key ritual functions.
Most African masks, despite the gender the mask is representing, are carved by and worn by men. However, the Sande Society is the only female society in Africa where women wear masks. Masks of the Sande Society, as they are delicately carved and have elaborate hairstyles, represent idealized female beauty. Masked performers have a key role in ritualistic
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The artist of this contemporary work utilized raffia to represent the elaborate hairstyle which is symbolic of the wealth and power the young women of the Sande Society are seeking to possess. The top part of the mask is representative of a female face, which is typical of these initiation masks. Furthermore, the artist created a bucket-shaped helmet which is to be fitted over the user’s head, and characterically featured a long-ringed neck and a small female head mounted on top of the wooden bucket-shaped helmet. While the artist followed the artistic tradition of having the helmet portion of the gbetu mask be carved with a face, the geometric motifs that are depicted on the base are unique to the style of the artist. The contemporary work represents a divergence from the artistic tradition that informed its creation because of the individualized approach the artist took to the work to make it his own. The geometric motifs reflect aspects of the artist’s life which the artist deemed important. The gbetu helmets are individualized by each artist to reflect not only the interests of the artist, but the artistic aspirations of the artist and the goals the artist hopes the young women joining the Sande Society achieve. The masks exhibit unique characteristics and embellishments, while at the same time adhere to the widely-followed artistic traditions associated with the masks. Artists can implement the basic structural

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