James Friday, “Dead Father” Masquerade Costume Interpretation by FAM Docent Cindy Tonrey
James Friday aka “Happiness” (Nigerian, Okpella, born c. 1980) “Dead Father” Masquerade Costume (omeshe), 2014 mixed media (handwoven cloth – women’s weave from Okene, wood, yarn, cowry shells), 134” x 56” Commissioned from the artist in Nigeria by FAM Curator Jean Borgatti. Museum purchase.
This masquerade comes from the Okpella people in Nigeria. It was commissioned from the artist by Jean M. Borgatti, Ph.D., FAM’s Consulting Curator of African, Oceanic, Native American Art. A masquerade is a costume which covers the entire body of the individual/performer wearing it. A separate mask is often part of a masquerade, but in this case, the handwoven cloth completely covers the body and there is no separate mask. A masquerade is a personified spirit which can represent ancestors, beings associated with the environment or can represent abstract ideas. They perform at social, political and religious events or at celebrations of thanksgiving.
The “Dead Father” masquerade is also known as the “tall ghost” or “walking shroud”. Omeshe, meaning “that which walks leaving no footprint on the ground”, is the basic form which represents a deceased head of household. These masquerades return each year to participate in an annual festival with their living relatives to celebrate the renewal of the community. They are greeted by name and partnered with a relative when they perform.
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