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Art of the African Mask

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Loans and Permanent Collection
2/5/1994 - 8/14/1994
Organizing institution: The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia
An exhibiton of 22 ritual masks from various cultures in Africa including Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Gabon, and Zaire. The masks have been used in such rituals as marriages, funerals, exorcism and healing ceremonies.

The African masks in this exhibtion are dramatic portraits of spirit beings, departed ancestors, and invisible powers of social control. Each mask was made according to a traditional style, and each was worn by a trained performer. The African masks that hang on walls of Western art museums, detached from their full-body costumes, were originally part of whole performance ensembles, consisting of elaborately costumed dancers, vibrant music, and highly stylized dances. These complex ceremonial events expressed important social, religious, and moral values for the whole community. With careful attention to the masks' artistic and symbolic detail, it is possible to perceive these same values within the masks themselves.

All the masks in this exhibition are from the collection of African art in the Bayly Art Museum, unless otherwise indicated. Buffalo Mask by Nuna Artist, Burkina Faso, Africa Courtesy of Hampton University Museum: Nuna animal masks follow a general stylistic pattern. They have large round protruding eyes, surrounded by concentric circles, and a short triagular shaped snout. Decorative geometric patterns cover the whole surface. The masked dancers perform at market days, funerals, and initiations. Accompained by drummers beating the special rhythm of each mask and greeted by the audience with songs, each dancer gives a solo performance, while the rest look on. The buffalo masker begins by standing motionless in the center of the dance circle while "staring" into the distance, as if perceiving a possible threat in the distance. Suddenly, the dancer moves forward, stamping his feet and violently tossing his head up and down, in defiance of any perceived danger. Performing before a large audience in this fashion is the way Nuna families and clans honor the powerful animal spirits living in the world around them and gain their protection and blessings.

Exhibition Objects (13)

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