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Pastiche, parody, ironic, sardonic...?

Stephen Hornsby-Smith

"Give a man a mask and he'll tell you the truth" (Wilde). Give an African a mask and he'll transform history, culture and life into a spiritually intense experience of great passion in communication with his ancestral wisdom. His mask is a conduit and personification of African oral tradition that transcends Western knowledge and imagination, and, in terms of the bronzes of Benin, is another illustration of African techniques and technology pre-dating its Western counterparts.

This blog could become a critical missive about contemporary western 'masks' metaphorically speaking (the internet, mobile phones), but that is not my intention. Instead it is a demonstration of how I have tried to emerge from the Western traditions with my own specific self-transformation, that of my discovery of colour. I too sense the necessity of colour, passion, without the brutalization of colonial exploitation. It amuses me, therefore that bus loads of Western tourists step -out of their air-conditioned experience of Africa to purchase shoddy replicas of masks on an industrial scale that adorn their western domestication .Yes it gives local artists a much needed alternative income to finance their real endeavour, but the irony is clear that Europeans plundered Africa for centuries, and now Europeans are buying tat to exhibit their cultural ignorance for all to see. Ever been made a fool out of? It also represents the dysfunctionality of the relationship between the culturally wealthy and the culturally poor that does not have to mimic levels of industrial, commercial and financial development.

A discussion of the authenticity and identity of African masks and their status as social and political instruments of power, also exposes the prevalence of Western colonial paranoia concerning Africa, which still exists today. Perhaps my colour patterns painted on masks found in charity shops isn't just a recylcling but a transformation of things abandoned as junk that could be very restorative without them having to be polemical.

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