The African mask has a long association with ceremonies that often involve connecting with ancestral spirits. It has also had a tremendous influence on many modern artists, including Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. A group of contemporary artists in Africa, the U.S. and Europe have re-imagined the African mask constructed from a conglomeration of discarded materials with startling effect. These artists are represented in a small but worthy exhibit, “Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask by Modern and Contemporary Artists from Three Continents” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
There is an irony in these works, in that a spiritual icon primarily carved in wood has evolved into works composed from the detritus of evolving consumer societies. The influence of the West is evident here, including its waste, fortunately recycled into new forms of creativity. Among the artists are Calixte Dakpogan from Benin, whose “Woli” (2007) is composed of metal, glass and plastic; note the eyes derived from the backs of video tapes:
Romuald Hazoume, also from Benin, constructed "Ear Splitting" (1999) from a plastic can, brush and speakers:
More images are here. The exhibit continues through August 21, 2011, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, NYC.