An exhibition entitled “Sowei Mask: Spirit of Sierra Leone” is running until 28th April 2013 at the British Museum. Paul Basu has curated the exhibition along with Julie Hudson, of the British Museum’s Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.
Sowei masks – unique to the region around Sierra Leone – are worn by senior members of the all-female Sande Society during rite-of-passage ceremonies that signify a girl’s transition to adulthood. They are carved expressions of local ideals of feminine beauty, health and serenity that vary widely in their detail.
The video shows a special naming ceremony of a mask held recently at the British Museum prior to its installation in the exhibition.
Masquerade performances play an important symbolic role in the Sande Society. The mask is worn by the ndoli jowei (“the sowei who dances”) along with a black raffia and textile costume which completely conceals her identity. Traditionally, the ndoli jowei appears at specific stages of the period of transition at ceremonies that are accompanied by music, dancing and singing.
A number of related events are also being held, including a special performance in the British Museum Great Court on 16 February of the ndoli jowei masquerade, with speeches from the Sierra Leonean High Commissioner and other dignitaries to mark the opening of the exhibition.
There will also be a series of gallery talks, a related academic symposium, and a special event on 27 April, organised with the Sierra Leone High Commission, to mark the closing of the exhibition and to celebrate Sierra Leone’s Independence Day.
Admission is free.