|Gola Helmet Mask with Raffia Costume,
20th c. Gift of William C. Siegmann
Pieces from Liberia, Nigeria, and Cameroon exemplify the traditional type using materials organic to the geography, such as wood, straw, and leather. They can evoke animals, and are often meant to be fierce, intended to veil or erase one's identity.
The works by current artists play on the varied themes and functions presented by masks, adapting them with an eye to contemporary issues of identity and security. Many of the artists have moved to New York from African countries.
Nandipha Mntambo, Europa, 2008, printed 2015
Photograph sheet: 35 3/4 x 36 in. (90.8 x 91.4 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town and Johannesburg
Among the most compelling is Nandipha Mntambo, who focuses on bullfighting. She transforms herself into not only a toreador, photographed in costume, waving a red cape in a bullring, but also an intimidating bull with horns. In another fascinating work, she takes a cowhide and shapes it into a relief of a woman's backside, bridging abstraction and representation.
|Walter Oltmann, Razor Brush Disguise, 2014, aluminum wire
Walter Oltmann of South Africa creates bristling body suits of razor wire and metal spokes, like modern versions of suits of armor. While obviously threatening, they manage to be endearing, in the way of a hedgehog.
|Brendan Fernandes, From Hiz Hands, 2010, neon, glass.
|Brendan Fernandes, Neo-Primitivism II, 2007—14, plastic masks, deer decoys, vinyl. Photo: Susan Yung
Disguise: Masks and Global African Art , which originated at the Seattle Art Museum, is on view through September 18. Also in the lobby is an installation by Tom Sachs of his Boomboxes over the years, constructed of found or repurposed objects.
Photos courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum unless noted.