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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Gela Mask (The Ancient One)

Gela Mask (The Ancient One)

Animal anatomy seems to explode off this face. If you look carefully, there are tiny round eyeholes that show the core of the explosion is human. Such a mask was worn only by an auspicious judge who arrived when social tensions were erupting. Visually armed, this masker reminded people that they should not model themselves after the untamed creatures of the forest that used their horns and teeth to attack each other. Instead, this "Ancient One" came to absorb all such beastly instincts and return that fierce energy to the forest where animals could make use of it.
Wood, raffia, cloth, teeth, horn, feathers, hair, fiber cord, cowrie shells, mud, and pigment
31 7/8 x 18 x 10 15/16 in. (81 x 45.7 x 27.8 cm)
Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company
Provenance: Collected by Mamadi Kaba, Monrovia, Liberia, from Pine, Grand Gedeh County, Liberia, between Tschien and Patu Mountains; sold to Svend E. Holsoe (1939-2017), Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Delaware, 1968; sold to Katherine White (1929-1980), Seattle, Washington, 1968; bequeathed to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 1981
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum


Exhibition HistoryLos Angeles, California, Frederick S Wight Gallery, University of California, African Art In Motion, Jan. 20 - March 17, 1974 (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Apr. 21 - July 30, 1974).

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Praise Poems: The Katherine White Collection, July 29 - Sept. 29, 1984 (Washington, D.C., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Oct. 31, 1984 - Feb. 25, 1985; Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, Apr. 6 - May 19, 1985; Fort Worth, Texas, Kimball Art Museum, Sept. 7 - Nov. 25, 1985; Kansas City, Missouri, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Mar. 8 - Apr. 20, 1986).

Washington, D.C., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, African Art In The Cycle of Life, Sept. 9, 1987 - Mar. 20, 1988

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, June 18 - Sept. 7, 2015 (Los Angeles, Calif., UCLA, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Oct. 18, 2015–Mar. 13, 2016; Brooklyn, N.Y., Brooklyn Museum, Apr. 29–Sept. 18, 2016).
Published ReferencesMcClusky, Pamela. African Art: From Crocodiles to Convertibles in the Collection of the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1987, no. 13, pp. 24-25

Selected Works, Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1991, p. 50

University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, African Art in Motion: Icon and Act, Robert Farris Thompson, 1974, p. 121, plate H-1

Seattle Art Museum, Praise Poems: The Katherine White Collection, 1984, p. 116

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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