First: helmet mask, from the Vai peoples in Sierra Leone, late 19th and early 20th centuries [made with wood, black pigment, and metal]
This mask was associated with the education and socialization of young girls by the women's Sande society - into into which all girls were initiated at puberty - among the Vai peoples and their neighbors in (present-day) Liberia and Sierra Leone. Senior women wore these masks at the termination of initiation ceremonies in order to embody Sowei, patron spirit of fecundity and grace. The mask's elegant coiffure, high forehead, compressed triangular face, and voluminous neck rolls (signifying wealth) embody goodness and female beauty. This masking tradition is unusual in that women commission masks form male carvers and are the ones who perform in the masquerade.
Second: mask [idimu], from the Lega peoples in The Democratic Republic of Congo, late 19th and early 20th centuries [made of wood, raffia, and pigment]
For initiations of men and women into the Bwami society - which played political, economic, social, and religious roles among the Lega peoples - artists carved elegant oval masks and small figures from wood, bone, and ivory. As members moved through progressive grades within the society, they gained deeper knowledge about social and ethical relationships. This mask was associated with 'yananui' the second highest grade. The white color symbolizes death, ancestors, and spirits, and the raffia beard alludes to elders who guard against threats to social harmony. Rather than dancing the mask with a full costume, male Bwami members wore it on the sides of their heads or displayed it on specially constructed fences.
Third: Headdress by Olowe of Ise [Yoruba / Nigerian artist, about 1875 - 1938], crafted in the early 20th century [made of wood and pigment]
Perhaps the most renowned and innovative artist was Olowe of Ise, whose architectural sculpture enjoyed the esteem of Yoruba rulers and is cherished in Western collections. This headdress is the only known mask by his hand. Worn by a male dancer, the headdress was used in 'epa' masquerades that celebrated social roles and achievement. Placed on the helmet base of double faces, a female figure bears an infant on her back, a fan and a fowl in her hands. She is she is preceded by a smaller figure and a dog. The three-dimensionality, high relief carving, and thick pigmentation are characteristic of Olowe's style.
Fourth: Male Figure by Oroma Etiti Anam [active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries], crafted about 1910 [made of wood]
The Igbo [Ibo] peoples of the lower Niger region are notably individualistic traders who honor a man's achievements in personal shrines called 'ikenga'. The figural compositions on these shrines range from abstract to naturalistic. This male 'ikenga' figure, once part of such a shrine ensemble, has been attributed to Oroma Etiti Anam of the Aguleri-Nteje region of Nigeria. The man is seated on a stool that identifies him as a member of the Ozo men's association. Above him, an openwork tier incorporates images alluding to the powers of animals, which include ram horns, snakes, hyenas, and a leopard.