Title:Initiation maskArtist:MendeDate:20th centuryCreation Place:Africa, Sierra Leone, West Africa regionCredit Line:The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial FundAccession Number:72.69.1
These two helmet masks come from different regions in Africa, but they were both used in the initiation ceremonies of youngsters. The black mask, from Sierra Leone, was worn by a woman who accompanied young girls from their forest retreat back to the village. It is one of the very few types of masks worn by women in Africa. The Mende people see outward beauty as a reflection of inner beauty or goodness, and the appearance of the mask embodies ideals of female physical and moral attractiveness expressed through the high forehead, downcast eyes, and elaborate coiffure. The dyed raffia attached to the mask was part of a larger costume that would have entirely covered the dancer.