Arts + Culture

The Brooklyn Museum Is Rethinking The Concept Of "African Masks"

The Brooklyn Museum's 'Disguise: Masks and Global African Art' exhibit challenges the concept of the "African mask."

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
The Brooklyn Museum’s new show wants to challenge the concept of the “African mask” and explore the meaning of masquerade in the 21st century.

The Disguise: Masks and Global African Art exhibit, which first ran last summer at the Seattle Art Museum, will connect the work of 25 artists from across Africa and the Diaspora who have reinterpreted the traditional disguise. Together, their art explores themes of "race, women’s agency, queerness, the exoticization and eroticization of the 'other,' governmental corruption and the limits of empathetic understanding."


“Masquerade has long been a tool for African artists to expose hidden issues, and to challenge the status quo,” says Brooklyn Museum’s Associate Curator, Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands, Kevin Dumouchelle. “Once masks were removed from performance and transformed into museum objects, their larger critical and artistic messages became lost. Drawing from today’s media-saturated world, Disguise’s artists fill the galleries with innovative and provocative contemporary works that remove us from our current moment and usher us into a space where closer looking and deeper perception prevail.”

Among the artists featured in Disguise are Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou (Benin), Nick Cave (U.S.), Edson Chagas (Angola), Steven Cohen (South Africa/France), Willie Cole (U.S.), Jakob Dwight (U.S.), Hasan and Husain Essop (South Africa), Brendan Fernandes (Kenya/Canada/U.S.), Alejandro Guzman (Puerto Rico), Gerald Machona (Zimbabwe), Nandipha Mntambo (South Africa), Jean-Claude Moschetti (France/Benin), Toyin Ojih Odutola (U.S.), Emeka Ogboh (Nigeria), Wura-Natasha Ogunji (U.S./Nigeria), Walter Oltmann (South Africa), Sondra R. Perry (U.S.), Zina Saro-Wiwa (U.S./U.K./Nigeria), Jacolby Satterwhite (U.S.), Paul Anthony Smith (Jamaica/U.S.), Adejoke Tugbiyele (U.S./Nigeria), Iké Udé (Nigeria), Sam Vernon (U.S.), William Villalongo (U.S.), Saya Woolfalk (U.S.).

The Disguise: Masks and Global African Art exhibit is on view at the Brooklyn Museum from April 29 through September 18, 2016 . Check out some of the exhibiting work below. 

Iké Udé (Nigerian, born 1964). Sartorial Anarchy #23, 2013. Pigmented inkjet print, 46 x 37 in. (116.8 x 94 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Leila Heller Gallery, New York. © Iké Udé. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Leila Heller Gallery, New York
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
Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou (Beninese, born 1965). Untitled, Egungun Series, 2011. Digital exhibition print, 59 x 39 1/4 in. (149.9 x 99.7 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Jack Bell Gallery, London. © Leonce Agbodjelou. Photo: Courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery, London
Adejoke Tugbiyele (American, born 1977). Homeless Hungry Homo, 2014. Palm stems, steel, wire, metal, wood, U.S. dollar bills, 29 7/8 x 59 7/8 x 23 5/8 in. (76 x 152 x 60 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Frank L. Babbott Fund, 2015.42. © Adejoke Tugbiyele. Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum
Wura-Natasha Ogunji (American/Nigerian, born 1970). An Ancestor Takes a Photograph (video still), 2014. Video, filmed in Lagos, Nigeria. Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. © Wura-Natasha Ogunji
Brendan Fernandes (Canadian, born Kenya, 1979). From Hiz Hands: 1979.206.143, 2010. One of three neon-on-glass-frame signs, 35 x 30 in. (88.9 x 76.2 cm). Loan from the artist. © Brenden Fernandes. Photo: Courtesy of the artist
Unidentified Chewa artist. “Elvis” Mask for Nyau Society, circa 1977. Central or Southern region, Malawi. Wood, paint, fiber, cloth, 11 x 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (27.9 x 24.1 x 18.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas III, Frederick E. Ossorio, and Elliot Picket, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2010.41. Creative Commons-BY. Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum
Unidentified Chewa artist. “Elvis” Mask for Nyau Society, circa 1977. Central or Southern region, Malawi. Wood, paint, fiber, cloth, 11 x 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (27.9 x 24.1 x 18.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas III, Frederick E. Ossorio, and Elliot Picket, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2010.41. Creative Commons-BY. Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum
William Villalongo (American, born 1975). Muses (Artifact 1), 2012–14. One of seven paper collages in Plexiglas vitrines, 23 1/2 x 18 in. (59.7 x 45.7 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. © William Villalongo. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York
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