Masquerade costume

The Dogon people of Mali perform ceremonial dances dressed in striking masks and costumes. One such dance honours the dead: every morning and evening for up to six days, masqueraders dance in the village and surrounding fields – even on the deceased’s rooftop. Today, the Dogon also perform dances to entertain tourists.


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How do you use clothing to change your role or identity?

responded: Apr 2, 2013

Posted by Alessya D'Anna

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Senoufo traditional dances: M'Boloi & Balafon

The object I chose from the textile museum is the Masquerade costume. This costume is made by the Senufo people of West Africa. Its purpose is mainly for ceremonies and rituals. For my creative component I thought it would be a good idea to engage with textiles that were close in weight and similar fabric. In order to fully understand and relate to my object I felt I needed to physically experience what it was like wearing one of these masquerade costumes and dancing in them, just as the Senufo people did with their costumes. I obviously didn’t own anything made of the same sisal material as the masquerade costume I had been analyzing; however, what I did was just take clothing I did own and layer it to be similar in thickness and made sure it covered my whole body just like the Senufo costume. I was told by our professor Sarah Amato that the costume in its entirety is similar to the weight of a snowsuit, so I put on the closet thing I had to a snowsuit, which was my thick winter flannel one piece pajama. This pajama was perfect because it covered my whole body just as the masquerade costume did, and its thick flannel material could give me a taste of how Senufo people physically felt in their costumes. Also, to fully experience the whole art of the masquerade costume, I decided to put on top of my one piece pajama a one piece clown costume. This helped with not only the physically experience, but also helped with disguising my true identity and giving me the opportunity to take on a different identity. Once I was fully dressed in my version of the Senufo masquerade costume, I decided to document how I felt wearing these garments, and to my surprise it wasn’t pleasant in any way. I first wanted to get comfortable with the costume, so I walked around in it. I immediately started to sweat and felt very uncomfortable and I hadn’t even moved around much at that point. Then I decided to put on a YouTube video I found, which displays the actually physical dance movement the Senufo people did in their costumes, and I decided to attempt to try some of these moves and perform my own Senufo ritual at home. Along with a good laugh from some family members, I must have lost 10 pounds trying to dance in my costume. It was definitely a work out and very challenging, the costume wasn’t flexible at all for the types of aerobic movements that are meant to be performed in them. I also got physically tired faster because of the weight of the material. Of course, there is some fun in this observation, because I was fully covered I felt I could take on any identity and perform in any way, because no one could see me. My disguise help add to the character I was trying to enact, because it hide my identity and enhanced my image to resemble the image I was trying to take on. When I was in the costume I couldn’t help but wonder why the Senufo people would choose such a heavy thick material to make and design their costume in. The physical art of weaving is beautiful and definitely a skilled craft, but I couldn’t help but think of how hard it was moving around in such a heavy thick garment. It was very uncomfortable for me; I can’t even image how hot it must be for the Senufo people in West Africa with their extremely hot climate. When I was wearing the costume, the idea of it covering my whole body did give me the freedom to completely get lost in the character I was trying to take on, because nothing of my true self was showing; it was all covered by my costume. I guess I can understand, and appreciate the idea of a full covered costume for the purpose of assisting on fully hiding your true identity and taking on a new one, but I just can’t understand the reason for such a heavy, thick material. Nonetheless, this was definitely an interesting experience, and through this creative component I was able to appreciate the craft of the masquerade costume, and respect the Senufo rituals a whole lot more for I was able to realize how difficult it would be to perform these rituals in such a hot climate with a very thick costume. Below I have provided a link to a YouTube video, I found on the Senufo community dancing in their masquerade costumes. This video helped me get an idea of how the masquerade costumes were used and how the Senufo people performed rituals in them. Note- The Youtube video is not mine, it is only a reference that helped me visually see how the masquerade costumes were used and the types of dances performed in them. Enjoy!

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