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Masks: From Decorative to Mutant Objects

Part of Unmasking Masks

© Dakar (2018) by Francois Knoetze. Production still by Mouhamadou Diene. Featuring Bamba Diangne

Masks: From Decorative to Mutant Objects is the fourth panel discussion in Unmasking Masks, a one-day livestream event that explores the historic and artistic representations of masks. 


1:30 PM  Introduction 
Maurita N. Poole

1:30 PM – 2:00 PM Metamorphic Life of Art Objects
Emmanuelle Cherel, with Interpreter Nicholas Elliott

This contribution suggests considering the powerful action of objects in the so-called African art collections, as the artist Joe Ouakam stated: “How to materialize in museums the historical facts that represented epistemological ruptures very important in African societies and that African memory has pre-empted? Until now most of us are convinced that the Ancestors manes are a reality, it is alive, the dead are not dead. But how in our museums, I am going to reflect those dead who did not die and who speak to me, whom I see in dreams.”

In a recent article entitled «Musée des Mutants », Souleymane Bachir Diagne wrote: “To say that the mutant object derives its meaning from this cosmology is to understand that it recapitulates in itself the creative flow (...) African art objects are these mutants that do not hold in place and are always excessive”. An analysis of the approaches of the artists, Hervé Youmbi and François Knoetze, will highlight the way they conceive the mask, which is not seen as a static entity, but as an excessive hybrid mutant object inviting transmutation and transfiguration in order to act in our contemporary societies.

2:00 PM – 2:30 PM Branding Traditional
Lauren Tate Baeza

Curator and Africanist Lauren Tate Baeza interrogates “traditional” and “made-for-sale” art classifications, examining characteristics said to define each in Western art markets and institutions. This discussion surveys African entrepreneurship under colonialism and the practice of assessing European aesthetic preferences to produce items sold as decorative objects and keepsakes. This practice has resulted in collections more representative of colonialism and European tastes than African preferences or indigenous culture, and challenges prevailing notions of authenticity.

2:30 PM – 3:00 PM Q&A
Moderator: Maurita N. Poole, with Interpreter Nicholas Elliott

Click here to watch the event:

Replay event: Unmasking Masks, Part 4 | French Culture

About the Speakers

Lauren Tate Baeza is the Fred and Rita Richman Curator of African Art at the High Museum of Art, overseeing a collection that includes impressive examples of African masks, sculpture, textiles, beadwork, and ceramics. She previously served as Director of Exhibitions at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, where she curated the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection and organized numerous temporary exhibits using the visual arts to engage social issues. Baeza speaks, lectures, and consults at universities, nonprofit organizations, and federal departments on a range of cultural and sociopolitical topics related to Africa and the African diaspora. She holds a Master of Arts in African Studies from University of California, Los Angeles; a Bachelor of Arts in Africana Studies from California State University, Northridge; and studied curation at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. She has been featured on NPR and PBS, as well as in Associated Press News, ART PAPERS, ARTS ATL, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Emmanuelle Cherel, Ph.D in art history, qualified to direct research, member of the UMR CNRS AAU team CRENAU of the École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Nantes, works on the political dimensions of art and favors interdisciplinary theoretical approaches in order to consider an artistic p roposal as an act accomplished within a historical reality. Currently, her work focuses on the postcolonial presence in the art field. As a full professor at the Beaux-Arts Nantes Saint-Nazaire, responsible for the Dakar Campus, she has led the research projects Pensées archipéliques, Penser depuis la frontière and, since 2019, Workshops of Epistemological Disorders with El Hadji Malick Ndiaye. She has written numerous articles (Critique d'Art, Multitudes, Black Camera, Journal des Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers, L'Art Même, May, La part de l'œil and in collective books), a book Le Mémorial de l'abolition de l'esclavage de Nantes - Enjeux et controverses (PUR, 2012), and co-directed L'Histoire de l'art n'est pas donné : Art et postcolonialité en France (PUR, 2016), Penser depuis la Frontière (Dis voir, 2018).

© Walid Mohanna

Nicholas Elliott is a writer and translator based in New York. His recent translations from French to English include two essays by William Marx, professor at the Collège de France (The Hatred of Literature, Harvard University Press; The Tomb of Oedipus, Verso, forthcoming), Michel Winock’s biography of Gustave Flaubert (Flaubert, Harvard University Press), a collection of conversations between Marguerite Duras and Jean-Luc Godard (Duras/Godard, The Film Desk), and several plays by Pascal Rambert. From 2009 to 2020, Nicholas was the American correspondent for French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. His writing on film has also appeared in BOMB, Film Comment, The Criterion Collection, 4 Columns, Extra Extra Magazine and collective volumes on the films of Chantal Akerman, Philippe Garrel and Ryusuke Hamaguchi. From 2018 to 2020, he was a member of the programming committee for the Locarno Film Festival.

Maurita N. Poole, PhD is director and curator at Clark Atlanta University Art Museum. Her curatorial projects highlight the work of twentieth and twenty-first century artists of African descent. She recently developed The Black Optics Artist Residency and The Tina Dunkley Fellowship in American Art, a curatorial training program held at Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Zuckerman Museum of Art. These projects were supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Ford Foundation, and The Walton Family Foundation. 

This event is presented by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Atlanta, Duke University, Georgia Tech, and Vanderbilt University
with support from the Institut Français, the Beaux-Arts Nantes Saint-Nazaire (France), Les Maîtres d'Art (France),​ Descripto-Université Polytechnique Hauts-de-France, the Atlanta Global Studies Center – Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta), the High Museum of Arts – Atlanta, Centro de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos – CEMCA (Mexico).