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African Masquerade Rituals and Spiritual Realms are Unmasked at the Boca Raton Museum of Art

January 24, 2020 Attraction No Comments Email Email


Phyllis Galembo: Maske

Major photography exhibition (January 28 – May 31)

Meet the artist on May 17 at 3:00 p.m. at the Museum for a special appearance (lecture and book signing)

African Masquerade Rituals and Spiritual Realms are Unmasked at the Boca Raton Museum of Art

Museum goers will be spellbound by the transformative power of the African masquerade, as the Boca Raton Museum of Art presents Phyllis Galembo: Maske.

Her striking photographic series of contemporary mask rituals has drawn national and international critical acclaim. These large-scale images are nearly life-size and explore spiritual realms with brilliant, mesmerizing colors.

For more than 30 years, the artist has traveled around the world to photograph participants in contemporary masquerade events that range from traditional, religious ceremonies to secular celebrations.

They will be shown in concert with the Museum’s historical collection of more than 40 African tribal artifacts and indigenous masks in the gallery across from Galembo’s show, for a complementary perspective.

Through her lens, the viewer gains special access to the rarely seen other-worlds, as she captures the raw and sometimes frightening aspects of ceremonial garb. Masking is a complex, mysterious and profound tradition in which the participants transcend the physical world and enter the spiritual realm.

In her vibrant images, Galembo exposes an ornate code of political, artistic, theatrical, social, and religious symbolism and commentary.

“The tradition of masquerading is universal and timeless, and continues today in most cultures, including western societies,” says Irvin Lippman, the Executive Director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

“Bringing together the Galembo photographs and masks from the Museum’s African collection underscores the cross-cultural complexity of meaning and purpose. However, what they have in common is their vitality, power, and boldness of humanity.”

The costumes in Galembo’s photographs are worn in several types of modern-day rituals. They are created to summon ancestral spirits and deities during a range of events, including agricultural hardships, land disputes, rites of passage, funerals, harvests, moments of gratitude and celebration.

Galembo’s large-scale portraits in this exhibition capture the mask-oriented cultural traditions of Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

The masks and costumes in these photographs are made from a wide variety of surprising materials ─ leaves, grass, patterned fabrics, burlap sacks, full-bodied crocheted yarns, colored raffia, quills, shells, and even lizard excrement.

All of her photographs are shot as portraits rather than during the act of ritual. She is allowed to photograph her subjects at the very moment right before their rituals and festivities commence.

Galembo prefers her colors to be brightly saturated, enhancing the spiritual and transformative powers of these garments.

“I never see my subjects out of costume, although the masqueraders are always men, often paying homage to women,” adds Galembo.

Despite secularization and fading traditions, masquerading in Africa is abundant, robust, and far from disappearing.

Most of the photographs in this exhibition reflect sacred rituals, the spiritual aspect of masquerading rather than secular celebrations.

By donning garments, the masqueraders gain access to traditional knowledge, enabling them to relay critical messages to the community.

Awo-O-dudu (A Spirit They Saw) reveals a ghost- like shape summoning ancestral spirits during the dry months or times of crisis, when spirits are called to bless the deceased and entire villages.

Ko S’Ogbon L’Ate (You Can’t Buy Wisdom at the Market) is a tribute to mothers, goddesses and ancestors. The wooden headpieces represent an animal and a human, each sings a different song during the ritual.

Affianwan (“white cat woman”) represents spirit and transparency. The stunning headdress of this work is crocheted from one long flowing piece of fabric.

Two in a Fancy Dress and Rasta illustrates the cross of African and European traditions (fancy dress).

Awo-O-Dudu (A Spirit They Saw), by Phyllis Galembo. Freetown, Sierra Leone, (2008), Ilfochrome



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