The African masks in this exhibtion are dramatic portraits of spirit beings, departed ancestors, and invisible powers of social control. Each mask was made according to a traditional style, and each was worn by a trained performer. The African masks that hang on walls of Western art museums, detached from their full-body costumes, were originally part of whole performance ensembles, consisting of elaborately costumed dancers, vibrant music, and highly stylized dances. These complex ceremonial events expressed important social, religious, and moral values for the whole community. With careful attention to the masks' artistic and symbolic detail, it is possible to perceive these same values within the masks themselves.
All the masks in this exhibition are from the collection of African art in the Bayly Art Museum, unless otherwise indicated.