From the personal Collection of Elizabeth Bennett-Sara F. Luther.
Exhibited at the South Dakota Art Museum
Published in: Daniel Mato, PhD., Chelsea Cooksey, YORUBA: AN ART OF LIFE. The Bennett-Luther Collection Africa Direct, Denver, Colorado, 2004, fig. 36, p. 49
Epa masks are the largest masks danced among the Yoruba/Ekiti people of northern Nigeria.
In fact, Epa masks represent some of the largest masks used in Africa, being carved from a single piece of wood that can weigh up to sixty pounds or more. They are worn as a helmet mask covering the dancer’s head completely.
Among the Yoruba/Ekiti, the Epa festival celebrates life and abundance and the unity of the village, and honor the families and lineages who own and sponsor the mask and bask in a kind of reflected glory. They celebrate the life of honored elders and reinforce the corporate structure of the community.
Epa masks appear during a heavily symbolic and choreographed performance during which three different large Epa masks appear in sequence.
This mask represents JagunJagun or Ogun, both powerful men who display virtues much admired by the Yoruba-Ekiti. These men represent principles given visual form and are generally shown as an important mounted hunter and warrior. This figure of the warrior reflects the bloodshed necessary during war to preserve the life of a village. The figure surmounting the mask is shown as an important figure with his northern (Moslem) large hat with tassles carved around the top. He holds two staffs, one resting on a leopard, a traditional Yoruba power symbol, and another held just behind the figure of a woman (his wife). Women play an important, real and symbolic role in life for the Ekiti for it is women who, with their mysterious feminine powers, create life-balancing men’s social skills as rulers and chiefs. These large masks have extraordinary presence-conveying some of their power to visually project abstract principles and sculptural authority.
This example of an Epa mask would add its visual authority to any collection.
Drewal , H. J. and J. Pemberton III, with R. Abiodun Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought, (New York, 1989)
Drewal, H. J. and M. Thompson Drewal., Gelede, Art and Female Power among the Yoruba. 1983.
Fagg, W. and J. Pemberton III: Yoruba Sculpture of West Africa, (New York, 1982)
Lawal, B.: The Gelede Spectacle. Art, Gender, and Social Harmony in an African Culture. (Seattle, London 1996)
Mato, Daniel, Chelsea Cooksey, Yoruba: Art of Life. The Bennett-Luther Collection, Denver 2004
Witte, H.: A Closer Look; Local Styles in the Yoruba Art Collection of the Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal. 2004.
I have examined this piece and agree with the description.
Niangi Batulukisi, PhD.