“Disguise: Masks and Global African Art” at the Fowler Museum, UCLA – in pictures

12 artists of African descent explore identity, politics and culture in the act of disguise.

The Fowler Museum at University of California, Los Angeles hosts an exhibition that reveals how masks and masquerade have influenced artists of African descent.

Brendan Fernandes, (Kenya/Canada, b. 1979), 'Neo Primitivism 2', 2007–2014, installation with plastic masks, deer decoys and vinyl spears, dimensions variable, loan from the artist. Image courtesy the artist. © Brendan Fernandes

Brendan Fernandes, ‘Neo Primitivism 2’, 2007–2014, installation with plastic masks, deer decoys and vinyl spears, dimensions variable, loan from the artist. Image courtesy the artist. © Brendan Fernandes

The Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, is hosting “Disguise: Masks and Global African Art” until 13 March 2016, a travelling show organised by the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and curated by Pamela McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art. The exhibition features 12 African-American and African artists, who delve into the African diaspora through artworks ranging from immersive installations to sculpture. The press release states that

These contemporary artists use the notion of disguise to hide their identity and reveal issues of social, political or cultural import in their work. The act of altering or concealing one’s identity is at the core of traditional African masquerade, though with an important addition – an individual’s identity is not only concealed but entirely transformed.

Jakob Dwight, (American, b. 1997), 'The Autonomous Prism / msk02' (video still), 2010–2014, 16 digital videos, looped in continuous playback, dvd for plasma or projection, 4+ minutes, Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. Image courtesy the artist. © Jakob Dwight

Jakob Dwight, ‘The Autonomous Prism / msk02’, 2010–2014, 16 digital videos, looped in continuous playback, dvd for plasma or projection, 4+ minutes, Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. Image courtesy the artist. © Jakob Dwight

Jakob Dwight’s (American, b. 1997) video installation The Autonomous Prism is based on a digital glitch that renders electronic versions of African masks from the SAM collection. Originally, Dwight took silhouettes of masks and electronically rendered them with pulses of light. After a system failure, however, a glitch allowed for the seamless morphing from mask to mask thereby altering the identity of the mask itself.

Brendan Fernandes, (Kenya/Canada, b. 1979), 'From Hiz Hands', 2010, 3 neon-on-glass-frame signs, loan from the artist. Image courtesy the artist. © Brendan Fernandes

Brendan Fernandez, ‘From Hiz Hands’, 2010, 3 neon-on-glass-frame signs, loan from the artist. Image courtesy the artist. © Brendan Fernandes

A nomadic artist, Brendan Fernandez (b. 1979) was born in Kenya, raised in Canada and now works in Brooklyn and Toronto. Through From Hiz Hands, Fernandez questions the stereotype of the “authentic African” and uses his transnational identity to deepen understandings of African identity.

Nandipha Mntambo, (South Africa, b. 1982), 'Praça de Touros', 2008, archival pigment ink on rag paper, edition 71/100, 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Josef Vascovitz and Lisa Goodman, 2014.29. Photo: iocolor. Image courtesy the Seattle Art Museum. © Nandipha Mntambo

Nandipha Mntambo, ‘Praça de Touros’, 2008, archival pigment ink on rag paper, edition 71/100, 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Josef Vascovitz and Lisa Goodman, 2014.29. Photo: iocolor. Image courtesy the Seattle Art Museum. © Nandipha Mntambo

Nandipha Mntambo (b. 1982) is a South African artist who discusses human and animal interaction in her sculptures, videos and photographs. The press release states that in her work Praça de Touros,

Mntambo strides into an arena dressed as a matador who goes to battle with a phantom version of herself. It is a startling blend: her face with a bull’s face, her body with a cow’s hide, and her aggression with that of a bullfighter.

Emeka Ogboh is a Nigerian sound artist who uses sound to explore space and the masquerade. Creating a site-specific sound experience, Ogboh invented a score using older instruments to trigger memories for the artists of “Disguise”. Throughout the exhibit, from the entry way to the exit, Ogboh takes visitors on a sound journey akin to the masquerade.

An Ancestor Takes a Photograph (video still), 2014, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, United States/Nigeria, b. 1970, video, filmed in Lagos, Nigeria, Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. © Wura-Natasha Ogunji.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, ‘An Ancestor Takes a Photograph’, 2014, video, filmed in Lagos, Nigeria, Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. © Wura-Natasha Ogunji

Dividing her time between Texas and Nigeria, Wura-Natasha Ogunji (United States/Nigeria, b. 1970) uses video and performance to discuss gender. Using a new form of masquerade, Ogunji took a classic Nigerian dance performed exclusively by men and adapted the performance for the female agenda in her video work An Ancestor Takes A Photograph. Through performing on the street, she implores the public to question gender in society.

Saya Woolfalk, (United States, b. 1979), installation view of 'ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space' (detail), 2015, at Seattle Art Museum. Installation with five costumes with 3-D masks and video, dimensions variable, Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. Photo: Nathaniel Willson. © Seattle Art Museum

Saya Woolfalk, installation view of ‘ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space’ (detail), 2015, at Seattle Art Museum. Installation with five costumes with 3-D masks and video, dimensions variable, Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. Photo: Nathaniel Willson. © Seattle Art Museum

An accumulation of years of work, Saya Woolfalk (United States, b. 1979) invented a new virtual civilisation for her multimedia installation ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space, which explores hybridity, science, race and sex. Through masking reality with the fantastical, her subjects – the Empathics – disrupt the confinement of museum display with installation.

In Double Quadruple Etcetera Etcetera I and II, Sondra R. Perry augments video through optical illusion to transform the body and identity; she phrases this practice as “digital disguise”. By manifesting the body in a liminal space, the video shows an individual dancing feverishly throughout a white room disrupting space and identity.

Walter Oltmann, (South African, born 1960), 'Bristle Disguise', 2014, aluminium wire, 47 1/4 × 30 11/16 × 21 1/4in. Collection of the Artist. Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery. Photo: Anthea Pokroy. Image courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery. © Walter Oltmann

Walter Oltmann, ‘Bristle Disguise’, 2014, aluminium wire, 47 1/4 × 30 11/16 × 21 1/4in. Collection of the Artist. Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery. Photo: Anthea Pokroy. Image courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery. © Walter Oltmann

Using and manipulating various wires, Walter Oltmann (South Africa, b. 1960) creates drawings and sculptures that capture metamorphosis. Inspired by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Oltmann uses the hybridity of the insect and human to disrupt the identity of humans. In Bristle Disguise the artist sculpts a “European wearing his padded waistcoast and codpiece; then, in the next moment, his clothes begin to bristle with the hairs of a caterpillar”.

Jacolby Satterwhite, (United States, b. 1986), 'Country Ball 1989–2012', 2012,  HD digital video with colour 3D animation and sound, 12:39 minutes, Seattle Art Museum, Modern Art Acquisition Fund, 2013.3. Image courtesy Seattle Art Museum. © Jacolby Satterwhite

Jacolby Satterwhite, ‘Country Ball 1989–2012’, 2012, HD digital video with colour 3D animation and sound, 12 min 39 sec, Seattle Art Museum, Modern Art Acquisition Fund, 2013.3. Image courtesy Seattle Art Museum. © Jacolby Satterwhite

Creating virtual masquerades and new worlds, Jacolby Satterwhite (United States, b. 1986) combines the dazzling with the frenetic. Animating various scenarios that he offers as a plan for the apocalypse, he creates a world that is constantly morphing; this world is his rendering of the apocalypse. Through this world, he provides a guide to survival and “how to savor the sense of spinning into infinity”.

Through covering the walls of the Fowler Museum’s lobby with her black-and-white patterns of people and various objects, Sam Vernon masks the walls of the museum and reality itself. This cacophony of illustrated cells avoids the spotlight and any clear definition, disrupting focus and the gaze.

William Villalongo, (United States, b. 1975), 'Muses (Artifact 1)', 2012-14, 7 paper collages in plexiglass vitrines, 23 1/2 x 18 in. Courtesy the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. Image courtesy the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. © William Villalongo

William Villalongo, ‘Muses (Artifact 1)’, 2012-14, 7 paper collages in plexiglass vitrines, 23 1/2 x 18 in. Courtesy the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. Image courtesy the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. © William Villalongo

William Villalongo (United States, b. 1975) discusses history, culture and art through his piece Muses (Artifact I) where he places African masks on 19th and 20th century European nudes recalling the appropriation of sacred, cultural objects by European painters. Villalongo is deeply concerned with how social and cultural histories are constantly cycling and being retold.

Zina Saro-Wiwa, (United States/ United Kingdom/Nigeria, b. 1976), 'The Invisible Man', 2015, exhibition print, 28 3/4 x 44 in., Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist. © Zina Saro-Wiwa

Zina Saro-Wiwa, ‘The Invisible Man’, 2015, exhibition print, 28 3/4 x 44 in., Seattle Art Museum, Commission, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist. © Zina Saro-Wiwa

Through delving into a journey of cultural discovery, Zina Saro-Wiwa (United States, United Kingdom/Nigeria, b. 1976) found a form of masquerade from her homeland that used tiered heavy masks to discuss modern day politics. By creating her own mask to reconcile with her loss, Saro-Wiwa has built an emotional bridge between her heritage, art practice and personal demons.

Christina Ayson

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Related Topics: African artists, globalisation, migration, globalisation of art, women power, events in Los Angeles, museum shows, picture feasts

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