The Dancing Sowei: Performing Beauty in Sierra Leone

  • through March 2, 2019
  • Cantor Art Center, Stanford, CA
This exhibition focuses on one spectacular work in the Cantor's collection—a sowei mask, used in dance by the senior women of the women-only Sande Society. The sowei mask symbolizes knowledge of feminine grace, and it is part of a girl's initiation into adulthood. Thus, for many women of the region, beauty is literally performed into existence through ndoli jowei (the dancing sowei, or the sowei mask in performance). Taking an in-depth look at a sowei's esthetic expressions of elegance, from its serene gaze of inner spirituality to the corpulent neck rolls that signify health and wealth—the exhibition explores beauty as defined and danced by women.
Cantor Arts Center
Gola or Mende artist (Sande Society, Sierra Leone, "Helmet Mask" (sowei or ndoli jowei), 1920s–1930s. Wood, leopard tooth, kaolin and fiber. Gift from the collection of Marc and Ruth Franklin.

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