Differences: The Precarious Position of Portrait Masks in Southwestern Burkina Faso
Thursday, February 23, 2017
7:00 p.m., Room 237, Owen Hall
Free and Open to the Public
Dr. Lisa Homann is Assistant Professor of African Art History at UNC Charlotte. Dr. Homann earned her MA and PhD from the Department of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2011. She also earned her BA with distinction in Art History from the University of Washington. She was most recently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Penn Humanities Forum at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr, Homann's Lecture Abstract
In 1996, a new genre of masquerade emerged in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso, in southwestern Burkina Faso. Artist Sandré Sanou invented the first “portrait mask” when he carved a wooden headpiece to honor a recently deceased friend. Using a photograph as a model, he created a portrait of his friend in a stylized, but highly naturalistic manner. Rather than a "thing from the bush," as Bobo masks are said to be, Sanou's portrait mask clearly imaged a specific and identifiable human being. His act of affection spurred a wildly popular but deeply controversial mask genre in the region. So contentious is portrait masks’ naturalism that two districts of the city have banned the genre.
Although we might expect African masquerade arts to be a stable feature of ‘culture’ ostensibly agreed upon long ago, this talk examines a contentious recent innovation whose inclusion in local practices is, in fact, precarious. It poses the question, “how are controversial innovations negotiated by individual artists, patrons, organizers, performers, and audience members who serve as the gatekeepers of cultural institutions?”
photo courtesy of Dr. Homman