A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
As a scholar he worked till the end for the Yale files, in the hope that young scholars could benefit of this.
As written in his obituary, he has left this dance-floor, their 'pas-de-deux' has come to an end.
Our thoughts go out to Nettie Guy & Loes, Archivist of the Yale University Art Gallery- van Rijn Archive of African Art
correspondence: Nettie Witte-Sengers
from the (c)Who is Who in African Art:
Fishes of the earth: Mud-fish symbolism in Yoruba iconography Author: Hans Witte; 1982
and Esu Iconography of order and disorder
"Earth and the ancestors: Ogboni Iconography." Hans Witte, 1988.Gallery Balolu
Art from Mali 32p Author: Hans Witte;Gallery Steven van de Raadt & Kathy van der Pas (1993)
Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, The Netherlands, 2001. Text in Dutch and English. 98 pp., 73 color photos. EUR 23,00 softcover.
found in African Arts, Spring, 2002 by Dana Rush
This beautifully illustrated catalogue was an effective companion to the exhibition of Gelede masks surmounted by articulated figures, or "puppet masks," that was held last year at the Afrika Museum (see review, p. 84), especially as those masks were displayed without individual didactic labels. The catalogue would have been nice to consult in the gallery space, providing insight into interpretation of the masks without distracting from the aesthetic experience. For those who do not read German or Dutch, it includes an English translation by Kevin Cook.
Just by themselves, the 73 high-quality color photographs of these one-of-a-kind, never-before-published masks make Wereld in Beweging a logical addition to any personal or institutional library. (Smaller versions of the photos are reproduced in black and white in the back, next to the English translation.) The bulk of the volume consists of descriptive and interpretive catalogue entries for each mask. This is prefaced with a brief introduction to Efe/Gelede masking traditions of Anago Yoruba peoples (known as Nago in Benin) who live at the crossroads of southeastern Benin and southwestern Nigeria. The author, Hans Witte, clearly informs the reader at the outset that a lengthy description of the purpose and function of the Gelede society, rituals, and iconographies is "beyond the scope of this study" (p. 69). He does, however, refer to a body of literature to consult for a deeper understanding of Gelede, all of which is included in the bibliography.
In the introduction Witte states that the main function of the Gelede society is to guide the female powers of "witches" to safeguard the community against their potentially dangerous disposition. He goes on to explain the important concept of the "witch," pointing out that the term is an "unnecessarily pejorative rendering of the [Yoruba] word aje," and is used only for lack of a better translation (p. 69). Aje, we learn, refers to a type of "female power" inherent in all women, all of whom are potentially "witches." The Efe/Gelede society placates and pacifies this "female power" often through mask celebrations which have two parts. Efe, the first part, is a nocturnal gathering; the Gelede masks appear in the second part the following afternoon.
Because the original collector of the masks did not pass on information about their specific geographic origin, we are told only that all of the Efe/Gelede objects in Mrs. Ursula Heijs-Voorhuis's collection (which have been in Europe since at least 1972) were acquired from the same African town or village, whose name is not specified. Therefore, the next section in the introduction addresses the possible origins of these objects. Because of particular stylistic characteristics, Witte proposes that the collection came from Benin, most likely the area between Porto Novo and Sakete, including the villages of Takon, Banigbe, and Daagbe, and possibly as far north as Pobe. The Lamida family, well-known mask carvers from the village of Daagbe, probably carved some of the masks. Throughout the catalogue great attention is paid to particular artists' hands and workshops, and the author nicely refers to Allen Roberts's article on a family of Gelede puppet-mask sculptors in south-central Benin, the only other publication to date that addresses this topic (Roberts 1992:54-60).
We next learn how puppets are used in Efe/Gelede ceremonies. By and large, it appears that one or more of these masks might perform in preparation for the nocturnal Efe ceremony. During the daytime Gelede celebration, they entertain the audience with performances, often satirical in nature, depicting a wide range of events in the daily life of a Yoruba community. Because the puppets were often made to address a particular situation in a particular village at a particular time, it is often difficult to reconstruct the original meaning of the superstructure. Add to this the fact that superstructures can be altered or replaced entirely, allowing a mask to be updated while keeping the same substructure. A new meaning based on a new social circumstance can be given to a puppet whose initial meaning has become obsolete. Thus we learn in the small section on interpreting the puppets that it is usually "impossible to identify the local events that the puppets originally referred to" (p. 72). Witte closes his introduction with the proposition that some puppet masks might have been made and used for funerals of important members of Gelede societies.
The main catalogue consists of the detailed entries for each object which are clearly divided into sections and subsections that were not as readily discernible in the installation itself. As in the exhibition, the first part, called "Efe," contains catalogue entries which go into great detail on the potential meanings of the five Efe masks: a janus-faced bird/human, a hyena, a Great Mother, and two Oro Efe masks. Then, again following the exhibition, the Alapafuja and Gelede monkey masks are discussed in a separate section called "Between Efe and Gelede."
The main portion .of the catalogue (and of the exhibition), called "Gelede," is subdivided in a very useful fashion. First, we are presented with entries for eight masks in a section designated "Witch Birds." To no surprise, all have articulated bird puppets as superstructures, for in Yoruba thought, birds often symbolize the female power of witches. The next subsection, called "Philosophy of Life," contains thirteen detailed entries of the masks representing ancestors, "witches," and orisha. The following subsection, "Authority and Justice," contains eight entries on masks representing Yoruba public life by incorporating figures of court officials and district chiefs. The puppets wear the clothing and regalia of Fon chiefs, attesting to the interethnic community of Nago and Fon peoples. "Daily Life" is the last subdivision of the Gelede masks. These puppet masks reinforce principles of upright social behavior either by positive or negative example.
After "Gelede," the final section of the catalogue is dedicated to Gelede music. It includes ten leg rattles worn by dancers as both a composite musical instrument and a protective device, and three drums which would be used during Efe and Gelede celebrations.
Because of the possibility of changed meanings of Gelede puppet masks, some of the catalogue entries required some serious interpretive guesswork. They do not claim to be definitive, however, but are meant to offer some interesting and well-thought-out ideas. Liberties of interpretation are taken, but in my view that is better than saying nothing.
If you did not make it to the Afrika Museum for this show, I highly recommend taking a look at the catalogue. And please stay tuned for coming attractions: the museum plans innovative exhibitions and publications in the near future, some of which will focus on contemporary African and African diaspora art and artists.
Dana Rush reviews the exhibition, "Wereld in Beweging," on page 84.
Beier, Ulli. 1996. Les masques guelede, Etudes Dahomeenes, nouvelle serie, numero special (oorspronkelijk/originally published in Odu), no. 6, 1958.
Drewal, Henry John. 1974a. "Efe: Voiced Power and Pageants," African Arts 7, 2:26-29, 58-66, 82-83.
Drewal, Henry John. 1974b. "Gelede Masquerade: Imagery and Motif," African Arts 7, 4:8-19, 62-63, 95-96.
Drewal, Henry John and Margaret Thompson Drewal. 1975. "Gelede Dance of the Western Yoruba," African Arts 8, 2:36-45, 78-79.
Drewal, Henry John and Margaret Thompson Drewal. 1983. Gelede: Art and Female Power Among the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Lawal, Babatunde. 1996. The Gelede Spectacle: Art, Gender, and Social Harmony in an African Culture. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.
Roberts, Allen F. 1992. "Chance Encounters Ironic Collage," African Arts 25, 2:54-63, 97-98.
Roberts, Allen F. 2000. Review of "The Eternal Face: African Masks and Western Society," African Arts 33, 4:78-80, 96.
DANA RUSH is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and later this year will be an assistant professor of African and African Diaspora art history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
COPYRIGHT 2002 The Regents of the University of California
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