African Masquerade

Masks and music of the Congo take center stage in MIM’s new exhibition

Beginning on Nov. 8, the Musical Instrument Museum offers a glimpse into the dramatic and lively masquerade traditions of Central Africa at its newest exhibition Congo Masks and Music: Masterpieces from Central Africa, presented by U.S. Bank.

Curated by Manuel Jordán, PhD, MIM’s deputy director and chief curator, and Marc Felix, MIM board of directors member and international expert on African art, this exclusive exhibition features more than 150 rare masks, instruments and costumes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It also includes 12 mannequins in full, authentic outfits worn in ceremonies.

Rattle, Lega or Bembe people

Masquerades are one of Central Africa’s most vibrant art forms and take place for a variety of reasons—to educate, entertain, demonstrate power, promote fertility and connect humans with the spirit world. Masks represent powerful supernatural beings that come to life in human, animal or hybridized form in masquerades. Through music and dance, they express different peoples’ world views, histories, religious beliefs and morals.

Constructed out of materials including wood, feathers, beads, fiber and metal, the intricate masks on display in the exhibition showcase remarkable artistry and craftsmanship representative of dozens of Central African cultural groups.

Congo Masks and Music is the first exhibition to fully contextualize masks alongside musical instruments in their authentic performance settings. The collection features an array of musical instruments, including drums, bells, rattles, whistles, thumb pianos, xylophones and harps, and many visually reference particular masks. Archival photography and video footage featuring masks and traditional music performed in ceremonies allow guests to fully experience one of Africa’s richest traditions.

“I hope that when guests walk into the exhibition, they feel like they are stepping into the performance arena. Being in the presence of these full-body masqueraders, they’ll get a sense of how impressive this art form is,” says Jordán.


Congo Masks and Music

Nov. 8, 2019 – Sept. 13, 2020

Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix

For more information, visit exhibition.mim.org.

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