The only occasion upon which it is acceptable for women to wear masks in Africa is during the ceremonies of the Sande society in Mende culture. Sande society, which includes all Mende women, wields a great deal of political and social power.
Sowei is the Sande society’s guardian spirit and as such has a forceful, aggressive dance style that is enhanced by an imposing body covering of black raffia fibers. The carved mask embodies ideal Mende womanhood: a high clear forehead (intelligence); downcast eyes (servility); small mouth (discretion); neck rings (health) and scarification (physical beauty). The elaborate hairstyle reflects the importance of social bonds between women as it takes many hands to create such a look. [Gallery label text, 2009]
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This object has the following bibliographic references:
Article Scope: Reproduction only.
Susan Dodge Peters, ed.
Memorial Art Gallery: An Introduction to the Collection.
New York, New York: Memorial Art Gallery in association with Hudson Hills Press, 1988.
Memorial Art Gallery.
Rochester, NY: Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 2000--.
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