Telling Objects: Death
Launch the Death slide show
Many customs and stories help the living cope with the loss of a loved one. As an Irish-American I have participated in Irish wakes. In Ireland (and among Irish-Americans), the viewing of the body and the funeral are solemn events, but the celebration of the deceased's life is lively. Jubilation takes place after the wake (viewing of the body) or after the funeral. Memories are shared, funny stories told, and a great quantity of food and drink is consumed. Also, the U.S. and other Western countries have clothing identifying individuals as "in mourning," black clothing, black armbands, or veils.
It is not surprising to find ceremonies, celebrations and special attire recognizing death in African cultures. Two examples of funerary masks are included in this exhibition. Both have a serious and solemn appearance. They are not brightly colored nor elaborately decorated. Their simple forms and graceful lines enhance their purpose. Dark emotional feelings are conveyed by their subtlety. The Crest Mask, possibly from the Babanki culture, personifies mourning, respect, and reverence through the form of an elephant head. The elephant is highly revered as a royal icon. Its slow, heavy gait would be mimicked by a masked dancer who appeared sorrowful. The Face Mask from Gabon indicates grief with dark lines running like tears from the eyes down to the cheeks. The beauty of the face combined with the sorrowful gaze is poignant. Such masks would be worn in special celebrations and dances honoring the dead.
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