Cultural Experience at James E. Lewis Museum
Art is known as one of the greatest assets that portrays different African cultures. African art includes pottery, sculptures, and masks. It serves different purposes such as entertainment, education, and communication with spirits. Wood, iron, clay, and textiles are used in sculpting pieces of African art, especially when creating masks. Art allowed African ancestors to preserve the value of the culture and maintain social order in communities. Each culture has its own artwork that presents a different meaning. A visit to the James E. Lewis Museum of Art in the Murphy Fine Arts Theater on the campus of Morgan State University teaches about the cultural, traditional, and spiritual significance of masks and the skill involved in their creation.
Masks in African societies are important because they express spiritual purposes. African culture portrays the struggle of mankind to find harmonies through traditional ceremonies masks are worn to connect people to the gods. Magic, which is one of the components that completes the society in the Parrinder model, is shown in Yoruba culture where the Gelede masks are said to protect man from witches by supernatural means which involves magic, sculptures, and dance. The Gelede mask that is on display in the James E. Lewis Museum of Art has animal and human features, which represent the spirits of the ancestors. They are mostly worn by men and are used to invite their ancestral spirits to participate in ceremonies like initiation, birth, naming, weddings, and funerals. The spiritual connection conveyed by the wearing of the masks during the ceremonies is vital because it fulfils the society’s order.
Masks have particular significance in the cultural practices of the Yoruba tribe in Africa. There are masks of Yoruba culture on display in the James E. Lewis Museum of Art. The most common Yoruba exhibits are the Gelede masks, which are “colorful masks worn by men. They combine art and ritual dance to amuse, educate, and inspire worship” (“History of Masks.”) They are sculpted to honor the power of women. During Gelede ceremonies, elderly women in the society and ancestors are especially honored. The Gelede people believe that “elder women possess powers that are superior to the powers of the deities” (“James E. Lewis Museum of Art.”) Women have the power to bring and take life and the Yoruba people show their appreciation and respect by holding the Gelede ceremonies to honor the women.
The cultural and religious practices are revealed in African culture through the sculpted masks. The Dogon Kanaga masks found in Mali, resemble a cross with short bars at the top and the bottom piece representing the creator god. Dogons worship one god called Amma to whom they pray with their arms outstretched. Dogon religion is parallel to the Judeo-Christian tradition, which also advocates the worship of one supreme God who is at the top of the Parrinder model. In this type...