ROLE PLAY: Phyllis Galembo’s Masquerade Museum

by KATHARINE M. ORTIZ

Baby Dance of Etikpe, Cross River, Nigeria 2004 via The Third Eye

Baby Dance of Etikpe, Cross River, Nigeria 2004 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

As we gear up for our MASQUERADE JAM this Wednesday, April 17th at Alliance Francaise and prelude party our way to the third annual CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival, we bring you a bit of mask magic to increase your vim.

We are inspired by the visual feast that is portrait photographer Phyllis Galembo’s work. Here, have a look:

Ekong Ikon Ukom, Calabar Nigeria 2005 via Taste of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Ekong Ikon Ukom, Calabar Nigeria 2005 via Taste of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Phyllis Galembo’s fascination with masquerade began during a first visit to Nigeria in 1985.  As a former Fullbright scholar, her background in anthropology led her to explore the global phenomenon of concealment and disguise in ritual performance.

Big Devil Little Devil, Jacmel, Haiti, 1997 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyliis Galembo

Big Devil Little Devil, Jacmel, Haiti, 1997 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyliis Galembo

For over twenty years, Galembo has photographed religious and cultural rituals in Nigeria, Brazil, Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti, among other places.  She’s also photographed masquerade culture in the U.S., examining how Halloween normalizes myth and fantasy for public consumption.

Gelede Masquerade, Agonli-Houegbo Village, Benin 2006 via Blue Sky Gallery | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Gelede Masquerade, Agonli-Houegbo Village, Benin 2006 via Blue Sky Gallery | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Her most recent book, Maske [2010], explores the diverse array of costume rituals in West Africa and its diaspora. In these instances, masks are more than aesthetics.  Masquerade is an integral part of tradition and historical identity, a rite of passage, and an indicator of spiritual fortitude [or coolness].

Ghost and Bull, Dodo Masquerade, Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, 2009 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Ghost and Bull, Dodo Masquerade, Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, 2009 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Phyllis Galembo uses ethnographic photography to build windows into the enchanting world of masquerade.  Anthropology and art intersect in her images, and the resulting portraits are strikingly beautiful.  Galembo snaps us a world of deeply saturated colors, voluminous textures, and mythical characters set in African and African diasporic communities all over the world.

Mami Wata Mask, Cross River, Nigeria via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Mami Wata Mask, Cross River, Nigeria 2004 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

What is it that makes her work so mystifying?  Perhaps it is the fact that we are as drawn into the costumes as we are to those concealed behind the mask.  The masquerade costume remixes the body with signs that mark power, play, desire and fantasy. Galembo’s subjects use masks to create alternative identities, bring mythic characters to life, and transform ordinary humans into supernatural beings.

Jaguar style or Ekong-Itaghafon, Calabar, Nigeria, 2005 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Jaguar style or Ekong-Itaghafon, Calabar, Nigeria, 2005 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

See the gallery below featuring more of Phyllis Galembo’s work on the West African masquerade:

Akata Dance Masquerades, Ogoja, Nigeria, 2004 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Akata Dance Masquerades, Ogoja, Nigeria, 2004 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Akata Dance Masquerades, Ogoja, Nigeria, 2004 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Akata Dance Masquerades, Ogoja, Nigeria, 2004 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Agot Dance Group, Etikpe Village, Cross River Nigeria 2004 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Agot Dance Group, Etikpe Village, Cross River Nigeria 2004 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Ekpo, Calabar, Nigeria 2005 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Ekpo, Calabar, Nigeria 2005 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Gelede Masquerade 2, Agonli-Houegbo Village, Benin 2006 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Gelede Masquerade, Agonli-Houegbo Village, Benin 2006 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Janus Mask, Nkim Village, Nigeria, 2005 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Janus Mask, Nkim Village, Nigeria, 2005 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Ekpeyong Edet Dance Group, Calabar, Nigeria 2005 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Ekpeyong Edet Dance Group, Calabar, Nigeria 2005 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Nnabo Dance Group, Akpabuyo Village, Cross River Nigeria 2005 via Taste of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Nnabo Dance Group, Akpabuyo Village, Cross River Nigeria 2005 via Taste of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Masquerade from Gossina Village, Burkina Faso 2006 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Masquerade from Gossina Village, Burkina Faso 2006 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Panther Masquerade, Samaga Village, Burkina Faso 2006 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Panther Masquerade, Samaga Village, Burkina Faso 2006 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Water Buffalo Devil, Red Indians, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 2008 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Water Buffalo Devil, Red Indians, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 2008 via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Ngar Ball Traditional Masquerade Dance, Cross River via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Ngar Ball Traditional Masquerade Dance, Cross River via The Third Eye | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Abora Traditional Masquerade, Cross River Nigeria 2004 via Taste of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Abora Traditional Masquerade, Cross River Nigeria 2004 via Taste of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Egungun, Bohican, Benin 2006 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Egungun, Bohican, Benin 2006 via Traces of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Atam Masquerader, Alok Village, Nigeria 2004 via Taste of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Atam Masquerader, Alok Village, Nigeria 2004 via Taste of Creation | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Egungun, Bohican, Benin 2006 via Traces of Creation

Okpo Masquerade, Calabar South, Nigeria 2005 via Taste of Creations | photo by Phyllis Galembo

Okpo Masquerade, Calabar South, Nigeria 2005 via Taste of Creations | photo by Phyllis Galembo

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