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African Art
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 2
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Artist, possibly by: John Goba

Headdress in the Shape of the Head of an Indian Woman Surmounted by a Male Figure with Shackles

mid to late 20th century

Wood, metal, and enamel paint

33 3/4 × 10 1/2 × 16 in. (85.725 × 26.67 × 40.64 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
This unique headpiece could be a reference to the slave trade. However, the combination of the African man with the West Indian woman could lead also to another interpretation: In the late nineteenth century, Sierra Leone experienced a last influx of laborers from Western India for the construction of its railroad, undercutting wages for indigenous laborers and, in a way, “shackling” them. This created ongoing racial tensions in the country, which might be addressed in this image. The shackles may also imply that the man is chained by his love for a West Indian woman, whose light skin was considered to be very attractive. The phallic shape of the woman’s hairstyle could further support such an interpretation and refer to Mami Wata, a water spirit.
Sierra Leone
On view
Krio, Ode-Lay association
20th century

Possibly Jeremiah Cole, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Charles B. Benenson Collection, donated to Yale University Art Gallery in 2004


Sarah Adams, Call and Response: Journeys of African Art, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2000), 55, ill.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 76, 312, fig. 20.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.