African Masks: The Art of Disguise

New Exhibition of African Art Includes Never-Before-Seen Works From the Museum’s Renowned Collection

The Dallas Museum of Art will present a significant look at African visual culture through African Masks: The Art of Disguise, a new exhibition of approximately seventy works of art exploring the highly developed and enduring art of the African mask and revealing their timeless beauty, function, and meaning. Centered on the DMA’s distinguished collection of African art, acclaimed as one of the top five of its kind in the United States and which has set precedents since its inception 40 years ago, African Masks: The Art of Disguise features several works of art from the Museum’s collection that will be displayed for the first time. Significant works from other museum and private collections are also included in the exhibition.

African masks serve as supports for the spirit of deities, ancestors and culture heroes, which may be personified as human or animal, or a composite. Masked performances, held on the occasions of thanksgiving celebrations, rites of passage and funerals, often entertain while they teach moral lessons. In African Masks: The Art of Disguise, a variety of masks from sub-Saharan Africa offers a range of types, styles, sizes and materials and the contexts in which they appear. Carved wooden masks will be featured along with masks made of other materials including textiles, animal skin and beads. Because the mask is frequently only one part of an ensemble, full masquerade costumes will also be displayed, and the masks will “come to life” in performances recorded on film and in contextual photographs.

On view August 22, 2010 through February 13, 2011 in Chilton Gallery I, African Masks will be accompanied by an all-new smARTphone tour highlighting 19 masks in the exhibition and a visit “behind-the-scenes.” Visitors will be encouraged to view 10 additional masks in the Museum’s Arts of Africa galleries on the third level; they are among the 150 objects from the collection that are currently on view at the DMA.

“Our extraordinary African art collection is a particular point of strength and pride for the Museum, and with African Masks: The Art of Disguise, we take an in-depth look at the collection and present an innovative new way of looking at it,” said Bonnie Pitman, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “Through the use of the smARTphone tour, which includes cultural information, videos and behind-the-scenes interviews, along with more information about the works of art, this exhibition offers the visitor a dynamic experience.”

“Connoisseurs of African art and tourists collect masks, preferably carved wooden ones. Africans consider the entire masquerade—the object that conceals the head and the costume that covers the body—to be the “mask.” The person within this ensemble is also part of the mask! This exhibition celebrates the art of both the sculptor and the costume maker,” said Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the The Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art at the Dallas Museum of Art and the exhibition curator. “The African masquerade is a multimedia interactive experience that involves not only the sculptor but also the costume makers, dancers, musicians, spirits and audience.”

African Masks is divided into four sections and includes these highlighted works of art:

  • Masquerades are multimedia events that often include not one but several masked dancers embodying various spirits. On display for the first time is Chihongo face mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola: Chokwe peoples, made of wood, basketry, fiber, feathers, tukula, kaolin and iron; and Egungun costume from the Republic of Benin (former Dahomey): Yoruba peoples, made of cloth, appliqué, wood, cowrie shells, glass beads, animal claw or beak, sequins, animal fur and animal hide, and vinyl.
  • Human Disguises, including Four-face helmet mask (ñgontang) from Gabon: Fang peoples, made of wood and paint; and Forehead mask (mbuya type) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Central Pende peoples, made of wood, pigment and raffia fiber
  • Composite Disguises, featuring a Water spirit helmet mask (Obukele) from Nigeria, Delta area: Abua peoples, made of wood, pigment and paint; and Mask (kifwebe) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Songye peoples, made of paint, fiber, cane and gut
  • Animal Disguises, including Mask (gye) from the Côte d'Ivoire: Guro peoples, made of wood, paint and sheet metal; and Elephant mask (mbap mteng) from Cameroon: village of Banjoun (?), Bamileke peoples, made of palm-leaf fiber textile, cotton textile, glass beads and palm-leaf ribs
  • Two other masks that have never been on display before include Face mask (gle or ga),Dan peoples, Côte d’Ivoire or Liberia, made of wood, fiber and pigment; and Helmet mask (Lipiko), Makonde peoples, Tanzania, made of wood, beeswax, human hair and pigment

Visitors will be able to explore and experience the exhibition with moving footage sound, and a smARTphone tour featuring Dr. Walker, Exhibition Designer Alan Knezevich, art collectors and performers, as well as a mask and animal connection featuring animals from the Dallas Zoo. The tour can be accessed by visitors on Wi-Fi–enabled smartphones and media players at DallasMuseumofArt.mobi.

African Masks is organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and curated by Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator, The Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. Dr. Walker is also the author of the newly published book The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, the first catalogue dedicated to exploring the Museum’s collection of nearly 2,000 objects—acclaimed as one of the top five of its kind in the United States. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the collection, which began with a gift of more than 200 objects from DMA benefactors Eugene and Margaret McDermott, the catalogue draws from both historical sources and contemporary research to examine over 100 figures, masks and other works of art that represent 52 cultures, from Morocco to South Africa.

African Masks: The Art of Disguise is presented by the Sara Lee Foundation. The Dallas Zoo is a community partner. Air transportation provided by American Airlines. Promotional support provided by KVIL 103.7 Lite FM, Radio Disney, and Dallas Child.

About the Dallas Museum of Art
Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, Texas, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs are its encyclopedic collections, which encompass more than 24,000 works and span 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Established in 1903, the Museum today welcomes more than 600,000 visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary readings and dramatic and dance presentations.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of Museum members and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

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Press Contact:
Jill Bernstein
Director of Public Relations
JBernstein@DallasMuseumofArt.org