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Helmet Mask

African Art

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Helmet Mask

Artwork Details


Mende Artist, Sierra Leone


ca. 1875–1925



Accession #



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Currently Not on View


In Mende communities of the tropical forests of Sierra Leone, unlike elsewhere in Africa, both men and women dance masks. Helmet masks called sowei are worn by members of the exclusively female Sande society—a politically powerful women’s organization—to teach young girls how to be good wives and mothers and productive community members. Sowei helmet masks represent one of the few instances in which masks are used exclusively by and for African women. They represent Mende ideals of feminine beauty. The lustrous black surface of this mask is richly textured. It wears a British-style royal crown and has a full, ringed neck decorated with rows of carved Islamic amulets. Its delicately detailed, diamond-shaped face is surrounded by an elaborately interwoven coiffure.


Fred and Rita Richman Collection