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West African Mask: Doorway to the Spirits

“When fully activated, masks become spirits made tangible"

— West African masquerader turned curator, artist, and art historian, Chika Okeke-Agula

As sculptural, aesthetic, and museum-worthy that the mask may be, it cannot, and was never meant to, stand on its own, at least in traditional West Africa. It is but an agent, a medium for the ancestral powers that animate all things, and can only be understood in the context in which it was conceived, through the creative process that brings it into being, and by the dynamic interplay of the rhythm, color, texture, and movement that brings it, ultimately, to life.

The West African mask is less of a covering than an interstice, an opening through which to glimpse the spirit world.

The ‘spirit’ of the mask, ritually transferred from the natural materials out of which it is carved by its sculptor, emerges in full force through the traditional masked dance, performed to channel the divine, summon ancestral wisdom, escort the departed, accompany initiates, reaffirm societal values, venerate the living, and to mark the natural cycles of existence, from birth to death, season to season.

Mask: 12" High...with rafia 30" High x 9" Wide x 5" Deep

West African Mask: Doorway to the Spirits