11/20/10 - 11/13/11

Dalila Scruggs, Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Diversity in the Arts

The exhibition focuses on West and Central African art from the museum’s collection to explore the ways that gender ideals are expressed in traditional African masquerade performances. The aesthetics of the mask reflect ideals of masculinity and femininity. For example, the smooth black surfaces of the Sande helmet mask represent feminine beauty of young Mende women while the ferocious visage of the Mgbedike headdress expresses the masculine bravery of Igbo warriors. Some Gelede masks represent Yoruba women, but are actually danced by men who dress like women and employ movements that mimic feminine attributes—thereby consciously playing with gender roles. The objects and masquerade performances discussed in this exhibition put into practice the theoretical claim that gender is “performed” through gestures, clothing, and actions.