Western Africa in masks and Mali in photographs

Mask, Kwele, Region of Sembe, Republic of Congo, early XX th century

It is always intimidating to visit an exhibition of African art because one knows little about this culture which so fascinated Apollinaire and Picasso and their contemporaries and yet the genuine beauty of most objects is immediately palpable. So I encourage you to go and see the amazing masks at Musée du Quai Branly- Jacques Chirac where the exhibition « Les Forêts natales » (native forests) is beautifully set up.

Ancestor’s figure, reliquary guard, Kota Sangu, Gabon, 18 th century

Curated by Yves Le Fur, director of collections at the museum, who was raised and grew up in Gabon, three hundred and twenty five masks and statues from South Cameroun to Northern Congo show the diversity of styles from four countries including Gabon and Guinea, conceived during three hundred years from the 17 th to the 20 th century.

Ancestor’s statue, Fang Ngumba, South Cameroun, late XIX th century early XX th century

The Kwele, the Kota, the Fang, the Tsogo, the Punu and Aduma people all lived in forests. They used statues for the domestic cult of ancestors and masks for public ceremonies and initiations. The Bantou migrations, five thousand years ago, lead cultural groups to moving around the Ogooué river in all directions. The choice of the curator was to show only masks and statues excluding any other object such as stools or furniture.

Mask, Punu, Gabon republic, late XIX th -XX th century, Brooklyn Museum

Some masks are covered in kaolin reminding the visitor of Japanese masks, others are covered in raphia, all statues are guarding reliquaries. Some pieces have been lent by prestigious museums or private collections, including the Dapper and the Barbier Mueller Museum. The vast majority were collected by French explorers for Musée de l’Homme in Paris before being moved to the Musée Jacques Chirac.  The show is extremely well staged and this reunion of religious figures is very moving. (Until January 21, Musée du Quai Branly Jacques Chirac).

A map of all the countries and tribes

On November 23 rd, The Fondation Jacques Chirac will award its prestigious prize for Prevention of conflicts, to the Hrant Dink Foundation which fosters intercultural relations between the peoples of Armenia and Turkey. And a second prize to Collectif Zoukak, which helps refugees in Lebanon survive through theatre.


Mask, Tsogo Vuvi, Gabon republic, Late 19 th century

At Fondation Cartier, Malian photographer, Malick Sidibé, whose pictures you are probably familiar with, describes daily life in Bamako in the 1960’s. The photography expert André Magnin met him while looking for Seydou Keïta, another Malian photographer who shot pictures in the 1950’s. The show is called “Mali twist” in reference to the dance of the 60’s.

Malick Sidibé, Christmas night, 1963, collection Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain

Malick had a photography studio where everyone in town could have his portrait done and he covered young people’s parties and dances on the week ends. He was awarded a Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2007. He died last year in Bamako of diabetes at 80.

Malick Sidibé photographed at Fondation Cartier in 2004

A wonderful film about him is screened dowstairs and some of his vintage small pictures are also exhibited. They are my favorite. Most of them are very well known and have been shown before but the hanging is especially good at Fondation Cartier. (Until February 25, 2018)

Malick Sidibé, Friends wearing the same clothes, 1972, Courtesy Galerie Magnin-A

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