From one river to another: Faces of the Congo

8 04 2011

I took the opportunity to visit the Congo River, Arts of Central Africa exhibition during one of the free admission weekends to the Asian Civilisations Museum, to look at something that has fascinated me since my younger days, masks … Masks of course feature quite a fair bit even in the cultures that surround us, being used widely in the retelling of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, in its various forms across South East Asia. It was not so much in the stories of the Ramayana, in which my experiences related mainly to the retelling of it in the form of shadow puppetry, but in the many occasions during which I accompanied my grandmother to the street operas in Singapore that first fed that fascination I have had with masks – the toy vendor who sold masks and mock paper swords being a popular stop for me. What helped to further feed that fascination could of course be those plastic masks that made us children think we could be those characters on the television that we were so taken with – Ultraman being one of the more popular ones in my time. My father himself had been one that often made masks to keep my sister and me entertained, crafting simple ones out of pieces of cardboard boxes and sometimes having a hand at the more elaborate ones with paper-mâché.

Fascinating masks from the Congo River ... on display at the ACM up till 10 April 2011.

The collection includes an array of masks from the different areas through which the Congo River passes through.

Enough about rambling on on the origins of my fascination. What is really interesting about the masks from the Congo River area is that they are all carved or sculptured out of naturally occurring materials available to the many communities along the river who through the connection with the river, share similar traditions and beliefs – many for the purpose of rituals, and besides having an visual quality, also takes on a spiritual quality. The collection on display also includes funerary and reliquary figures and all have a similarly haunting look about them … there is a little section that is also devoted to the inspiration that African sculpture provided to European artists with a focus on the works of Pablo Picasso who, if I may quote from the exhibition brochure, “was strongly influenced very much by African art as he developed his Modernist style”. The exhibition is certainly one not to be missed … and as it ends this weekend … be sure to catch it!

... as well as Reliquary figures ....


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