Highly creative re-imaginings of the iconic form of the African mask comprise a unique installation to be held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning March 8. Featuring 20 works of art—19 sculptures and one photograph—Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask by Modern and Contemporary Artists from Three Continents reflects on the enduring relevance of African masks as a source of inspiration for artists across cultures into the present. Highlights of the installation will be whimsical sculptures created from discarded consumption goods by contemporary artists Romuald Hazoumé (b. 1962) and Calixte Dakpogan (b. 1958), both from the Republic of Benin. Seventeen of the 20 works selected are on loan from European and American private collections; the others are drawn from the Museum's own collection.
Works by Hazoumé and Dakpogan featured in the installation are self-consciously ironical references to the fact that the mask is the African form of expression most renowned in the West. Hazoumé's signature works on view, including Ear Splitting (1999, CAAC, The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva), are faces created from plastic gasoline jerricans, to which features made from a variety of scrap matter are added. The artist conceives of his "jerrican masks" as an homage to West Africa's masquerade traditions. They also function as portraits of contemporary Beninese society with a humorous twist, as well as layered and multifaceted reflections on the relationship between Africa and the West.
Dakpogan, represented in the installation by Heviosso (2007, CAAC, The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva), draws upon such disparate media as metal from abandoned cars, CDs, combs, and soda cans. The descendent of royal blacksmiths of Porto-Novo in the Republic of Benin, he creates ingenious sculptural compositions that reflect upon coastal Benin's long history of exchanges, which have defined its religious and political history. Consciously invoking the mask's importance as it relates to regional expression and to its centrality to the art historical canon, Dakpogan reflects on this status through a highly inventive synthesis of unexpected yet familiar elements.
The installation will also include explorations by modern and contemporary American artists in a variety of media to demonstrate further the open-ended potential of the seminal "mask" for dynamic reinvention. Works on view will include the iconic photograph Noire et Blanche by Man Ray (1890-1976), recent works by influential sculptor Lynda Benglis (b. 1941), and composite creations by Willie Cole (b. 1955). While Benglis's longstanding interest in African sculpture was the source of inspiration for a series of masks in glass shown here for the first time, Cole pays tribute to classical genres of African masks through assemblages of humble material drawn from his own environment that allow him to reflect on his spiritual attachment to Africa's material culture.
Reconfiguring an African Icon is a collaborative curatorial project organized by Alisa LaGamma, Curator, and Yaëlle Biro, Assistant Curator, both of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, in association with the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art. Exhibition design is by Michael Batista, Exhibition Design Manager; graphics are by Kamomi Solidum, Associate Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Design Managers, all of the Metropolitan Museum's Design Department.
A podcast featuring voices of artists represented in the installation as well as different curatorial perspectives on their work will complement an extended web feature on the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org.
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March 1, 2011