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February 3, 2018 By Andy Ross

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In the 1970's in Freetown, Sierra Leone, fancy dress festivals were held which drew together influences from across the world. 

The Joli masquerade was a celebration to mark special points of the year including the end of Ramadan and was actually started as a way to integrate young people moving into the port town from the countryside after independence from Britain in 1961. The town's Zorrow Unity Society and Young Men’s Muslim Association sponsored activities to help ease the transition, which included festivities at which headresses were worn. And what headdresses! 

The elaborate structures were made in three parts by different people, each skilled in their particular area. First an armature was made out of wire of different gauges, then a layer of padding was put over that framework and covered with different materials such as lace, printed cottons, velvets, shells and the like. Finally a mask or two completed the headdress which was worn as part of a costume of printed fabric, white gloves and white socks. It must have been a spectacular sight to see these costumed dancers in the streets. For a glimpse of what such a festival might have looked and sounded like, head over to this page and click on the small video halfway down the page. 

Last year an exhibition of eleven of these masks was on in the Fowler Museum at UCLA, and you can follow this link to read about the fascinating work that went on behind the scenes to discover what makes these masks so intriguing. There is even a 3D interactive model on the page.

(Picture courtesy of Ornament Magazine http://www.ornamentmagazine.org/blog/joli-masks-volume-393)