ArtsUNC Charlotte

Charlotte Professor Co-Curator Of West African Exhibition

In an ambitious project that marries art, culture, and academia, Lisa Homann, an UNC Charlotte Associate Professor of Art History, is at the forefront of an international exhibition set to bring contemporary West African masquerade to the global stage. The exhibition, titled “New Masks Now: Artists Innovating Masquerade in Contemporary West Africa,” has received a significant boost with a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art and featuring Homann as a co-curator, the exhibition is poised to offer a fresh perspective on a vibrant art form deeply rooted in tradition yet pulsating with modern energy.

The NEH grant, a substantial endorsement of the project’s cultural and scholarly significance, will support the exhibition’s implementation, a complementary publication, and the creation of associated public programs, underlining the initiative’s comprehensive approach to engagement and education. The announcement of Simeneh Gebremariam to oversee these programs adds further anticipation to the exhibition’s rollout.

Homann’s involvement is not just administrative; her deep dive into West African masquerade, particularly in Burkina Faso, spans nearly two decades of research, collaboration, and advocacy. Her journey, marked by encounters with artists like the renowned André Sanou and his successor and son, David Sanou, underscores a personal commitment to the art form. “I want people to know that dad himself wanted to do this during his lifetime but well…God has changed things. [Dad] couldn’t do it, but it was his will,” David Sanou conveyed to Homann, highlighting a narrative of legacy and aspiration that threads through the exhibition.

“New Masks Now” aims to showcase the work of four contemporary artists from West Africa, each bringing their unique voice and vision to the masquerade tradition. The exhibition will debut in the spring of 2025 at the New Orleans Museum of Art before embarking on a tour across notable venues in the United States, including the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. A parallel exhibition will journey through prominent African institutions, starting with the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal.

Homann’s scholarship and fieldwork have not only contributed to a deeper understanding of masquerade’s cultural and artistic dimensions but have also fostered ethical practices in commissioning and acquiring artwork. Her approach respects the creators and cultural authorities of masquerade, ensuring that the exhibition not only displays art but also honors the communities and traditions from which it springs.

The exhibition seeks to illuminate masquerade as a dynamic and evolving performance art, bridging traditional practices with contemporary artistic expression. By focusing on the careers and perspectives of the featured artists, “New Masks Now” intends to amplify the voices of these creators and their diaspora communities, offering audiences a nuanced exploration of West African cultural identity and creativity.

As Homann prepares for her tenth research trip to Burkina Faso, her work, both past and impending, encapsulates a bridge between continents, eras, and understandings, promising an exhibition that not only showcases art but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the intricate tapestry of human expression that masquerade represents.

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