Requires Photography

Gelede mask

20th century
Artist Unidentified

Object Place: Nigeria


Overall: 50 x 38 cm (19 11/16 x 14 15/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

wood and paint

Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art



Gelede masquerades celebrate the special powers of female spirits known as, “the mothers”. The mothers possess a powerful life force (ase), which can be used for benevolent of malevolent purposes. The destructive capacity of “the mothers” is called “aje” and is associated with infertility, impotency, and infant mortality. However, “the mothers” also have a benevolent influence that can cure illness and equitably disperse wealth, power, and prestige amongst the Yoruba. The ultimate goal of gelede performances is the maintenance of harmony in the community. The festival consists of a nighttime performance (efe), and an afternoon spectacle, when maskers usually appear in pairs and allude to social roles.

Animal figures also appear in Gelede headdresses and are usually incorporated into the mask’s superstructure. Animal motifs generally represent hierarchical relationships and power struggles.


1986, sold by Mr. Omar, Cambridge, MA, to Geneviève McMillan (b. 1922 - d. 2008), Cambridge, MA; 2008, to the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation, Cambridge; 2009, gift of the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 17, 2009)

Credit Line

Gift of Geneviève McMillan in memory of Reba Stewart