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Sunday, May 15 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Textiles) Exploring Origins and Power: The technical analysis of two Yoruba masquerade costumes

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This technical analysis of two Yoruba Egungun masquerade ensembles in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) investigates the fabrics and other materials present in these colorful costumes. Egungun masquerades are traditions in which composite ensembles are worn and danced to commemorate lineage ancestors in West African Yoruba communities. Constructed from layered patchwork lappets, each eye-dazzling ensemble conceals its wearer with an assortment of fabrics and other materials, sourced locally and internationally. This technical analysis builds on prior studies that have described the contextual importance of Egungun in Yoruba culture and one conservation study in which a revolutionary mount was made for an Egungun at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Consultations with scholars of Yoruba cultural material are helping to illuminate the cultural origins of the NMAfA’s Egungun, while research into West African fabric history aims to identify the fabric types and their sources. Characterization of the varied materials will complement this information by identifying fibers, metals, and elastomers through polarizing light microscopy and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy at the NMAfA, as well as Raman spectroscopy at the Museum Conservation Institute. This will help date components in the costumes and plan for their long-term care in a museum context. Evaluation of the materials and manufacturing techniques in these large and complex garments will expand the biographies of these particular Egungun, which have minimal provenance, and contribute to the scholarship of Egungun and the West African textile trade. Additionally, examination of similar masquerade costumes in other museums is expected to provide a comparative look at the textiles in Egungun and may afford a starting point for understanding the aesthetics, provenance, chronology and cultural standards for their selection.


Rebecca Summerour

Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Fellow, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
REBECCA SUMMEROUR is a Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Fellow at the National Museum of African Art. She earned a Master of Arts degree with a Certificate of Advanced Study from the Buffalo State Art Conservation Department (2012). She also holds Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in Crafts... Read More →


Dana Moffett

Conservator, National Museum of African Art
DANA MOFFETT is Senior Conservator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art where she has focused on the care and conservation of African traditional and contemporary art for nearly twenty years. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Archaeological Conservation from the Institute... Read More →

Sunday May 15, 2016 2:30pm - 3:00pm EDT
Room 511 A/D