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The Beautiful Time: Photography by Sammy Baloji
The Beautiful Time presents recent photographs and large-scale photomontages by Sammy Baloji.


Dogon Now: Masks in Motion

Performance of masks, Djuiguibombo, 2010

The inhabitants of the Bandiagara plateau, whom we call Dogon, descend from a number of different populations who arrived in the region in the 15th century, and were then subjected to slave raids and periods of violent interaction with neighboring groups, compounding the diversity of cultural practice throughout this region. The Dogon were brought to the world's attention starting in the early 19th century through the writings of European explorers, colonial agents, collectors, and ethnographers including Louis Desplagnes, Leo Frobenius, and Marcel Griaule. This material has influenced the way Dogon people are portrayed today and even how some Dogon people perceive and portray themselves. The tradition of masks (practiced in only a small area) has subsequently become an icon of Dogon identity for the region. In a time of extreme economic hardship, the emergence of masking for tourists, once resisted, is now welcomed as an opportunity to generate income.

In the 21st century masks perform in many contexts: ceremonies to mark the end of mourning (dama), tourist and theatrical performances in Mali and oversees, and official celebrations such as the openings of schools and roads. Masks in Motion features a vivid and theatrical display of both ancient and new Dogon sculpture, painting, and drawing, textiles and clothing, masks, masquerade costumes, and metalwork, as well as archival and recent photography. Film displayed in a range of exciting projection formats will create spaces in which visitors feel they are interacting with performers.

Many of the masks in Masks in Motion incorporate imported materials, creating a rich aesthetic considered modern and fashionable: the tresses of a pulloyana (Fulani) mask, exhibited on a fully dressed mannequin, glitter with recycled watch-straps, cut up sardine cans, and pill packets. Similarly, vivid fiber mask skirts, colored with dyes from Saudi Arabia, contrast with the muted colors formerly obtained from indigenous plants. In a unique installation that makes full use of the rich potential of new media, Masks in Motion demonstrates the complex history of mask performances, and their evolution in the face of the many challenges of a rapidly changing world. Guest curated by Polly Richards, independent art historian.

An illustrated catalogue by Polly Richards accompanies the exhibition, with contributions by Lassana Cissé, Anne Doquet, Denis Douyon, and Walter E.A. van Beek.

For more information about this traveling exhibition, please contact

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