Masquerade

• Phyllis Galembo has spent the past twenty years photographing the masquerade traditions of Africa and Haiti. Just as the photograph transforms the subject by transfixing him in time and space, the mask transforms its wearer into a different being. Many of these costumes have a specific mythological and ritual context. The Mami Wata Mask from Cross River, Nigeria references the Mami Wata spirit, a female figure who possesses beauty and often carries a serpent. The red and white contrast of the mask represents the dual nature of the Mami Wata: the two sides of death as destruction and transformation. In myth, she drowns sailors or boaters. If she decides to return them to land, they are transformed into wealthier and more attractive versions of themselves. The Nger Ball masqueraders, also from Cross River, have a more mysterious background. They are wearing costumes woven from plant fibers, topped with goatskin and fur headpieces. The patterns have meaning within the context of their dance performances.

• Unlike many African masquerade costumes that cover the face with fabric, Ayami Nishimura transforms the face with makeup. In this exhibition and book, with photographs by Rankin, she creates fantastical contrasts with colorful pigments.