Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Beauties and Beasts in Igbo Art

Igbo Art: Beauties and Beasts

Thank you to my friend and fellow Mount Holyoke book group member Joan! She told me about the lecture, “The Astonishing Richness of Igbo Art: Beauties, Beasts, and Others.”

One of Cole's books on Igbo masks, Beauties and Beasts

One of Cole’s books on Igbo masks, Beauties and Beasts

I went on Thursday evening to the recently renovated Yale University Art Gallery. The speaker was Herbert M. Cole.

I missed the introduction; I got there just as Cole was beginning.

I've ordered his book on Igbo Arts with Beasts and Beauties.

I’ve ordered his book on Igbo Arts with Beasts and Beauties.

(Why was I late? I’d gone to Posh Nails for my regular manicure and pedicure. The manicure was finished in time but I knew I had to move quickly. I went home and changed. I was ready at just the time I’d planned.

Then the phone rang. I nearly didn’t answer. It was Posh Nails. “What?” I thought. Good thing I picked up – I’d left my wallet on the counter, so I had to race back, out of my way! And I was grateful they’d phoned.)

Cole spoke about Igbo art with a focus on Igbo masks. The event no longer appears on their front page. Good for them for keeping up to date! If the link doesn’t take you to the event, you can read about it and see the photo of the speaker if you click on the calendar for Jan. 26.

He is an emeritus professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. He lectures and consults on African art. He also carves miniatures of African figures, masks, spoons, stools, and power images. I should send him a picture of the Igbo door we have hanging on our wall.

His early slides showed the contrast between the ‘beasts,’ as he called them, and the ‘beauties.’ The beasts, masks depicting men, were large and often tough-looking. Some had horns; Many were decorated with leopards, pythons, elephants, and monkeys. The men who wore the masks sometimes carried a stick or spear.

The ‘beauties’ on the other hand are the masks depicting females. They are always white, have narrow noses, and usually sport an elaborate hair style. Both the male and female masks are worn by men.

The huge creation, carried by one man, we saw in Amawbia

The huge creation, carried by one man, we saw in Amawbia

His final slide had a picture of an ijele, as he called it, a huge creation more than ten feet tall. Though it’s called a mask because it’s worn by a masquerade, it is actually a gigantic headdress carried by one person. An ijele is only seen rarely, and only to celebrate a really major event.

We happened on an event in Amawbia seven years ago when an ijele was on show. It was amazing! I sent the picture to Professor Cole.

U.S. National Committee for UN Women

Saturday was the semi-annual in-person board meeting of the United States National Committee for UN Women, or USNC UN Women. I took the Amtrak train from Stamford, Connecticut on Friday to Washington DC. Two board members, Mary and Terry, had been in DC for the march last week and stayed on. Two others arrived in the evening.

We gathered for dinner at the Mayflower Hotel where three of us were staying. I was glad for the opportunity to talk informally to the others. They have known each other for several years. I joined the board in June 2015 and missed the face-to-face meeting last June, so haven’t spent as much time as I would like with the others.

We had a full agenda. Even with a lunch break – several of us went to Nando’s for Portuguese-Brazilian inspired salads – we still completed all our tasks. I reminded the others that the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile is in Africa right now. In fact in Ethiopia, where several hotel staff and a taxi driver were from.

Indique dessert with mustard chili ice cream

Indique dessert with mustard chili ice cream

To celebrate a successful meeting we had dinner at Indique.

The Mayflower Hotel is old and lovely. Staff were friendly and helpful.

Mayflower Hotel lobby

Mayflower Hotel’s lovely lobby

Only this morning did I catch the “DC” reference on the hang tag for the room door. If you are inside and don’t want your room cleaned, you hang the tag that says, “In Session.”

Immigration Ban  

Before going to All Souls’ Church Unitarian this morning in Washington, I watched CNN. Fareed Zakaria was hosting the program GPS.

The conversation was about the immigration ban. One of his panelists was Rula Jebreal, foreign policy analyst and Visiting Professor, American University of Rome. She said, “It’s not about national security, it’s about white supremacy. He’s using refugees as a distraction.” She continued, “We’re handing a victory to . . . extremist groups.”

Other panelists were Anthony Romero, Executive Director of ACLU, David Milliband, President, International Rescue Committee and former British foreign secretary, and Jonathan Turley, Professor, George Washington University School of Law.

We’re seeing a “massive outpouring of support for refugees at airports and around the country,” Romero said. “It’s showing how people feel about this executive order banning immigrants.”

Jazz musicians at All Souls Church Unitarian DC

Jazz musicians at All Souls Church Unitarian DC

Then I went to church for a rousing sermon and jazz!

As I returned to the hotel I saw the outpouring! As my Uber driver was still a few blocks away from the Mayflower Hotel, we saw people carrying signs. Then the traffic got heavy, barely moving. Still a couple of blocks away, I got out. I photographed one of the marchers!

Woman on her way to the march. I followed her.

Woman on her way to the march. I followed her.

I went with them to the point where I could see the White House and the masses of people.

Then I turned around and went back to the hotel. Just made it in time for my train back to Connecticut! The traffic was a mess because of the protest, and I didn’t mind!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Sounds like you have been having some fun while also taking care of business! Good going.