The exhibition presents 30 masks from the Harn collection, supplemented with loaned works from private collections. Drawing on the Harn’s strengths, most will be from West Africa (Nigeria, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Liberia and Sierra Leone), with some from Central Africa (DCR, Cameroon). Masks from the mid-20th century to the early 21st century show the continuity of masking but also feature new directions in masquerades. Music and dance are as important as the costume in masquerade.
This exhibition examines the process of transformation in the materiality of the mask, and through multi-media components of performance. It asks how humans control relationships with the spirit world through masquerades, and how those relationships are seen to actively evolve as the elusive spirits appear, engage with us and challenge us, then disappear. Although much of the exhibition focuses on the spiritual and religious foundations of masking, it also explores phenomena in masking and masking aesthetics, including those with dazzling costumes, music and dance that are largely for entertainment.