Of Mende origin, John Goba was born into the hermetic milieu of women’s Bondo Society, in which his grandmother played an important role.
Goba came of age under her protection, and at the end of his period of initiation, he settled in Mountain Cut, a district in Freetown. There, when he was about thirty, he experienced a revelation that prompted him to begin making masks for the Ode-lay initiation rituals and masquerades that had sprung up in Freetown in the 1970s.
Ode-lay masks and dress are characterized by an extraordinary ornamental exuberance, incorporating unexpected materials (such as Christmas tree ornaments) to achieve spectacular effects.
Goba’s first masks, made of wood and brightly coloured with industrial paint, initially followed Ode-lay customs. As he became more experienced, he began to create sculptures with greater freedom.
Goba’s imagery is inspired by the traditional lore and mysteries of his environment and his sculptures are a skilful blend of figures borrowed from time-honoured tales and his own fantasies. A multitude of porcupine quills invariably protrude from the main characters of his tableaux, as if assuring their protection and forbidding any access to the heart—or secret core—of the work.
Each sculpture, Goba likes to say, has its own private history to which only the artist has the key.