Symbolic masking and performance is a deeply embedded socio-cultural multisensory experience among West African cultures, specifically the Mende in Sierra Leone and Liberia. These masquerades use a variety of metaphorical aesthetic forms of art that publically display to the larger cultural community the strong unity and power of the secret organizations performing these "special services." For the purpose of this Senior Independent Study, focus is placed on the methods of the Sande society's art and performance to establish and convey female power in West African societies. Sande art consists of a system of symbols that represent values and powers of the female gender. Embellishments on the costumes and masks amplify their meaning and establish female agency as they are performed publically to the Mende community. There are two methodological approaches used in this Independent Study. Chapter One and Chapter Two use the structuralist approach as a way of understanding Sande art and performance through binary oppositions. Chapter Three introduces a new was of viewing gendered performance through the feminist methodology of "performative gender". It functions in this chapter to explain how the Sande society constructs certain behaviors and roles of the female gender through strategies of performance. Most importantly, the Sande society and its world of masks and masquerades are of a pivotal system of visual language that establishes female agency and political and social opportunities.


Morrow, Kara


Art and Art History


History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Theory and Criticism

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2012 Claire Smith