Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This red masquerade costume features a colorful pattern of flower shapes and nested rectangles, and wide sleeves with sections of solid white and black fabric. The ensemble includes a paddle-like fan with a sunburst design and a white face mask with black and red details. The features on the mask include wide eyes, bared teeth, and textured scars.
- Certain aspects of the mask are symbolic to the Igbo people. The color white represents femininity, and the scarifications (textured scars) are associated with beauty standards.
- A dancer would have worn this costume and mask and danced with the fan to bring forth a spirit that is important to the Igbo community.
- The patterns used on the costume are symbolic. The motif on the blouse and pants represents a West African water goddess, and the design on the fan reflects Jewish religious texts.
This masquerade costume was created by one or more Igbo artists from Southeastern Nigeria. The ensemble includes a matching blouse and pants, a dance fan, and a white face mask (the color of which may indicate that it represents a female character). The mask features an upturned nose, high cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes, and ichi scarification details. The term “ichi” refers to ritual facial scarification worn by the Igbo people. What distinguishes this mask from others used in Igbo masquerades is the full outfit that accompanies it. The mask itself is similar to another work in the NCMA collection, a mmanwu ceremony headcrest, which was also made by Igbo artists.
There is deep meaning and symbolism in the patterns used on both the dance fan and on the fabric of the costume. The designs on the fan reflect elements of Judaic iconography. These symbols relate to the Islamic trade routes that connected African cultures with other parts of the world. The design motif on the fabric of the blouse and pants represents the West African water spirit known as Mami Wata, a goddess the Igbo people call upon for help during times of transition and healing. This is especially relevant because the costume and mask were made between the 1950s and the 1970s, during the Nigerian Civil War (also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War). The war was fought between the government of Nigeria and the Republic of Biafra, where most of the Igbo people lived.
According to performance historian Osita Okagbue, the costume and mask serve as a “reflective mirror in which the Igbo examine and make commentary” (about themselves and their neighbors). These objects reflect the function of masquerades as a form of social commentary during a time of great conflict.
Resources for Teachers:
Resources for Students:
- Read an article about the Igbo people.
- Watch a video about an Igbo masquerade.
- Explore other Western and Central African masquerades.