Contemporary Artists Reimagine the African Mask

The exhibition ‘Disguise: Masks and Global African Art’ connects African masks to masquerade.

Nandipha Mntambo (South African, born 1982). Europa, 2008. Exhibition print, 31 ½ x 31 ½ in. (80 x 80 cm). Photographic composite: Tony Meintjes. Courtesy of the artist and STEVENSON, Cape Town and Johannesburg. © Nandipha Mntambo. Photo: Courtesy of STEVENSON, Cape Town and Johannesburg

“In 1907, Pablo Picasso encountered an African mask for the first time at the Palais du Trocadéro, which subsequently set off his three year-long African period. The result? Proto-cubist paintings like Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon and Head of a Sleeping Woman (Study for Nude with Drapery), two of his most famous. In the many movements since, the African mask has appeared widely in Western art as a fragment that typifies ceremonial masquerade. In the recently opened Brooklyn Museum exhibition, Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, 25 contemporary artists attempt to bridge the gap between mask and masquerade by both historically contextualizing and re-imagining the role of the African mask and masquerade today.”

Installation view: Disguise: Masks and Global African Art. Photo: Jonathan Dorado.

“African masks as we have come to know them and expect to see them in Western context are really just a fragment of a lost performance of works that were once contemporary but are now frozen in time,” explains exhibition curator, Kevin Dumouchelle, to The Creators Project. “The contemporary artists are able to set in and reanimated the mask through their practice.”

“The central metaphor of the show is becoming,” the curator explains. “There’s paradoxes in masquerade where, by disguising your own identity and taking on a new identity, you can speak to a truth that might not be accessible in everyday life, and, in fact, change the world in that way.”

this thought really interests me, costume and masks, just like our clothing and makeup allow us to convey our own personal selves to the rest of the world. the only difference is the exaggerated manner. what truth would I like to tell the world?

Saya Woolfalk (American, born 1979). Installation view of ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space (detail), at Seattle Art Museum, 2015. © Seattle Art Museum. Photo: Nathaniel Willson

Zina Saro-Wiwa (British/Nigerian, born 1976). The Invisible Man, 2015. Pigmented inkjet print, 28 ¾ x 44 in. (73 x 111.8 cm). Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. Courtesy of the artist. © Zina Saro-Wiwa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: