THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM’S MASKED MESSAGE
By Dairia Kymber
It should come as no surprise when you walk through the African art section of a museum and see historical African masquerade. But have you ever regarded the masks as fashionable transformations? In many African countries, masks were traditionally worn to define relationships between communities and frequently had a spiritual meaning. As part of an exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum, 25 contemporary artists invite viewers to think critically about this masked fashion statement, the message within African art, the world we live in and our place within it.
“It happens that I think about a story. Then I start thinking about its realization, the character, how it is dressed, the setting, and then at the end I create my artwork.” Visual artist Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou summed up the essence of the contemporary exhibition,“Disguise: Masks and Global African Art”, when he said this in a press release. His Egungun Series tells a visual story of the Egungun performers in Porto-Novo, Benin who metaphorically allow the costumes they wore to conceal their own identity and preserve the memory of ancestors. The series explores the transformative power of these cultural practices. Notable contemporary artist Nick Cave’s iconic Soundsuit is also displayed. It, too, was created as a means to conceal identity in efforts to force the viewer to look, but don’t judge. Ike Udé’s ongoing photographic self-portrait series “Sartorial Anarchy” considers the duality of fashion and art and African/post-nationalist as he displays himself within various settings dressed in costumes spanning geographical derivation. Along with Agbodjélou Cave and Udé, a host of other global artists committed to African art are showcased throughout the exhibition.
The exhibition is complete with video, digital, sound, and installation art, as well as photography and sculpture. View the works at The Brooklyn Museum until September 18, 2016.