The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) received a National Endowment for the Humanities exhibition planning grant to fund the planning phase of a new, groundbreaking exhibition titled “New Masks Now: Artists Innovating Masquerade in Contemporary West Africa.”

This collaboration with the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution (NMAfA) will be a nationally and internationally traveling exhibition and feature an accompanying scholarly publication and series of public engagement programs.

The curatorial planning team is led by Amanda M. Maples, curator of African art at the NCMA. Jordan A. Fenton, assistant professor of art history at Miami University Ohio, and Lisa Homann, associate professor of art history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, will serve as co-curators and experts in the field of masquerade. Hervé Youmbi, a leading contemporary artist in Cameroon, is a collaborating researcher and contributing author. Kevin D. Dumouchelle, curator, National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian Institution), is a contributing curator and author on the project. During the planning process for this project, eight national and international scholars will further advise on curatorial and academic content as well as research methodologies.

“We are thrilled to partner with other leading institutions to highlight the varied and powerful work of contemporary masquerade artists in Africa,” says Valerie Hillings, NCMA director. “This exhibition will open at the NCMA during an exciting period of change in the display of the NCMA collection, which features a dedicated focus on African masquerade and reflects our strong commitment to enhancing and expanding our African arts holdings and programming.”

“The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is delighted to collaborate with our colleagues at the North Carolina Museum of Art for the upcoming ‘New Masks Now’ exhibition and publication,” says Interim Director Deborah Mack. “Showcasing the agency and innovations of Africa’s artists is central to our mission, and this collaborative project will underscore the importance and relevance of contemporary African performance artists for audiences in the United States and beyond.”

Masquerade has long stood as the iconic African performance genre, and yet the artists who create masquerades are often unacknowledged and underrepresented in exhibitions and publications. “New Masks Now” will showcase the artworks and voices of individual creators and offer a fresh take on the vitality of masquerade arts. “New Masks Now” makes clear that creativity in African masking is fundamentally contemporary. The project challenges both the widely held ideas of the “anonymous African artist” and assumptions that masquerade is an unchanging, static artform solely rooted to the distant past.

This innovative exhibition will share the stories of four masquerade artists: Chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa (Nigeria), David Sanou (Burkina Faso), Sheku “Goldenfinger” Fofanah (Sierra Leone), and Hervé Youmbi (Cameroon). “New Masks Now” will explore their motivations, their artistic choices, the patronage and economic networks with which they engage and how the artists adapt their respective genres in response to current circumstances and changing trends, locally and globally. This project is rooted in humanist ideas, questions, ethical methods and a concerted effort to foster meaningful engagements with public audiences and communities.

Currently, the exhibition is planned to open in 2024 at the NCMA and travel to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution (NMAfA). Following presentations at the two venues, it will then travel to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), and two or more North American host venues.

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