Inventing Masks: Agency and History in the Art of the Central Pende

Inventing Masks: Agency and History in the Art of the Central Pende

by Z. S. Strother, Z. S. Strother
     
 

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Who invents masks, and why? Such questions have rarely been asked, due to stereotypes of anonymous African artists locked into the reproduction of "traditional" models of representation. Rather than accept this view of African art as timeless and unchanging, Z. S. Strother spent nearly three years in Zaire studying Pende sculpture. Her research reveals the rich

Overview

Who invents masks, and why? Such questions have rarely been asked, due to stereotypes of anonymous African artists locked into the reproduction of "traditional" models of representation. Rather than accept this view of African art as timeless and unchanging, Z. S. Strother spent nearly three years in Zaire studying Pende sculpture. Her research reveals the rich history and lively contemporary practice of Central Pende masquerade. She describes the intensive collaboration among sculptors and dancers that is crucial to inventing masks. Sculptors revealed that a central theme in their work is the representation of perceived differences between men and women. Far from being unchanging, Pende masquerades promote unceasing innovation within genres and invention of new genres. Inventing Masks demonstrates, through first hand accounts and lavish illustrations, how Central Pende masquerading is a contemporary art form fully responsive to twentieth-century experience.

"Its presentation, its exceptionally lively style, the perfection of its illustrations make this a stunning book, perfectly fitting for the study of a performing art and its content is indeed seminal. . . . A breakthrough."—Jan Vansina, African Studies Review

Editorial Reviews

Choice
Strother's flair for deep description, complemented by action-filled photographs from her thirty-two months of research among the Pende people of Congo/Kinshasa, allows readers vicarious participation in galvanizing spectacles. . . . Strother's greatest strength is in providing apt anecdotes, at once proving her friendship with Pende, her acute perception, and her skills as an engaging writer.
Library Journal
Masks play an important part in the life of the Pende, as with many Central African peoples. Strother has produced an in-depth scholarly study of Pende masquerade traditions, especially during and following the colonial experience. What makes the book notable is Strother's focus on creativity and the processes of artistic innovation, which the author contends have kept those masking customs vital. While much of the research is based on the contemporary situation, a precolonial and early-colonial art history is also incorporated as an important part of the study. Accompanying the text are many illustrations of both museum objects and field photos (varied in quality and mostly black and white), an appendix, and an extensive bibliography. The writing style and vocabulary is academic, so anyone but students of African art will find the book a difficult read. Highly recommended for academic libraries with interests in art history or African studies.Eugene C. Burt, Art Inst. of Seattle Lib.
Booknews
A study of the role of invention within African traditional art, based on interviews with mask-makers of the Central Pende of Za<:i>re. These artists describe a complex collaboration among song writers, drummers, and dancers that shapes the form of the contemporary practice of the masquerade, revealing the level of innovation present within genres. Discusses the Pende aesthetic system and its relation to other African aesthetic systems, traces the precolonial and colonial history of masquerades, and demonstrates that Central Pende masquerading is a contemporary art form responsive to 20th-century experience. Includes b&w and color photos. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226777320
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
03/28/1998
Edition description:
1
Pages:
376
Product dimensions:
6.63(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.40(d)

What People are saying about this

Robert Farris Thompson
...[S]tands forever as a model for field work and theory in African art history. Strother is a superb translator, teaching us in every page with thoroughness, cultural fluency and interpretive brilliance.
— Author of Flash of the Spirit

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