An oldie! This is a Yoruba/Gelede costume. Couldn’t find out too much info on it at the museum, but here’s a bit from wikipedia: “Gelede celebrates “Mothers” (awon iya wa), a group that includes female ancestors and deities as well as the elderly women of the community, and the power and spiritual capacity these women have in society.”
Ife terracotta heads. Ca. 12th-15th century.
Culture: Yoruba people.
Geography: Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
Ife Terracotta (100-1400 CE), Ile-Ife.
From 1200-1500 CE Ile-Ife was a flourishing artistic centre. Ife terracotta works constitute a large and diverse corpus that includes sculptures and vessels depicting, animal and other worldly subjects. These works vary in size from nearly life size, full length figures to tiny figures and range in style from extreme naturalism to abstract forms.
The art-historical importance of Ife works lies in their highly distinctive sculptural style, described alternately as naturalistic, portrait-like, and humanistic. These include human heads and figures depicting idealized crowned royalty and their attendants, as well as images of diseased, deformed, or captive persons. The delicately rendered vertical facial straitions that appear on many of the sculptures may represent scarification patterns. The naturalistic style was first done in terracotta and subsequently transferred to other media. In addition to a large body of terracotta works is a much smaller number of copper and brass heads and full body statues, including the unique seated figure of a man found in the village of Tada.
Traditionally in Yoruba societies, women are clayworkers. They produce both sacred and secular pieces and may have been the creators of the archaeological terracottas.
Men are traditionally the sculptors of stone, metal and wood. The production of bronze cast works, involving both terracotta and metal-working, may have been collaborative efforts.
Alice Apley ( independent scholar)
These heads shown here in this post are now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.