The Brooklyn Museum’s latest exhibit offers visitors a new perspective on culture and identity.
“Disguise: Masks and Global African Art” brings historic and contemporary art to life through works by 25 contemporary artists who are African or of African descent. The metaphor of “becoming” is central to the exhibit.
“By putting on a mask, by hiding your own identity, you become someone else and in so doing, paradoxically, are actually able to speak to a deeper truth,” said Kevin D. Dumouchelle, an associate curator of Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands at the Brooklyn Museum who organized the “Disguise” exhibit for the institution.
A series of works that pull together elements from the entire exhibit are three ChimaTEK installations by Saya Woolfalk. Using video and costumed figures, they create an immersive environment that discusses identity and hybridization.
Other works to examine identity include “Homeless Hungry Homo,” a sculpture about the abuse gay people are subjected to in Nigeria. And “The Invisible Man,” a photograph about women creating their own masquerade — a tradition for men only.
Music is an important element to the exhibition, too. “Egwutronica,” by Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh, is influenced by the Igbo music style and incorporates Igbo percussion.
“Masquerade involves costume, it involves music, it involves audience, dance,” said Dumouchelle. “Sound is a reminder that [the masks are] part of performance.”
One of the aims of “Disguise” is to avoid a traditional museum environment, Dumouchelle said. Typically, African masks are set in specific scenes on display, out of their original context of movement and dance. “Disguise” brings each piece, historical and contemporary, together to interact as a dynamic whole.
“The artists are ... reanimating the masks for us,” Dumouchelle said, adding that the display prompts visitors “to think about the issues that the artists behind these historical masks were interested in.”