What is the purpose of African art

African culture: mask & magic

Behind a mask, the line between reality and illusion becomes blurred: people become ghosts, the dead come to life. The masked person suddenly speaks in a strange voice and moves differently. He doesn't matter - he lives it.

The photographer Phyllis Galembo traveled through Africa and Haiti for more than 20 years to document the art of masking. Why did she do it to masks in the first place? “Because of the creativity,” she says. “It's not the mask alone. It is the uniqueness of a ritual costume. " She points the camera at a fence or a house wall and arranges the lighting. She leaves the pose to the disguised. Galembo only ever exposes one film with twelve images. "Either I have the motif in the can or not."

The mask is the most important part of a costume that a ghost person wears during a ceremony in front of a village community. Some disguises are for entertainment only; they are worn in parades or dances. Others are part of religious or social rituals. The masked person then often embodies a moral authority that issues orders, imposes penalties or restores order. Sometimes he is also the master of ceremonies of initiation customs.

The origins of masking are lost in the darkness of human history. Perhaps they lie in hunting rituals, as the art historian Herbert M. Cole of the University of California in Santa Barbara suspects: men wanted to incorporate the spirit of the prey with the transformation - or even to soothe it.

Here you can see a video of the photo series by Phyllis Galembo:


Photographer's website: www.galembo.com

(NG, issue 04/2012, page (s) 86 to 97)