Wooden masks from Africa serve as one of the most common symbols of African culture, and at the same time, masks are not common to the entire continent. As fragments in the museum, they suggest a place in time characterized by ritual performance, spiritual authority, and sculptural ingenuity. To wear a mask is to deny oneself. It is an “about-face” to self-representation, even when the performer’s identity is known to the audience. At the same time, masks are about the face itself and the importance of transforming it—and, through performance, the entire body—in order to be effective. “About Face: African Masks in Iowa” consists of nearly thirty masks from the permanent collection, ranging from a Yoruba-style Gẹ̀lẹ̀dé headdress recently attributed to the Ànàgó Master (also the first African mask acquired by the University of Iowa in 1956) to the recent acquisition of Hervé Youmbi’s Bamiléké-Dogon Ku’ngang Mask, 2019-2022. Visitors will find the African mask collection exhibited in ways that emphasize historical relationships among associated culture groups and artistic relationships among many West and Central African masks from the world-renowned Stanley Collection of African Art.

An installation shot of "About Face": multiple masks fill the frame, where a man, center, looks down at the labels on a pedestal.

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