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