SaSo L’Oju Egun / Behind the Mask

Olaniyi R. Akindiya AKIRASH

My current research is focused on the cloth of the masquerades of the Egungun Festival in West Africa and parts of Bahia, Brazil. When I was on residency in Brazil my paper tapestry technique became influenced by the traditional fabric of the BAHIA people, who have a close connection to the Yoruba people of Nigeria through the slave trade. They both celebrate the Egungun Festival, a traditional religious ritual, where masqueraders dance in elaborate costumes.

My head spun with questions. What is the significance of the masquerade? What is the purpose in the culture of this festival? From where did those costumes and masks come? Who designed them with what influence? What preparation do the performers go through before the festival? Do the patterns used have any relationship to the tattoos and body art of today?

I was born in a family that practiced both ISLAM and CHRISTIANITY. Although my forefathers practiced the traditional religion of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, I never knew the details of the traditional rituals other than what I heard in stories. When I was in Bahia, I witnessed the old ways alive with my own eyes and I was able take part. I continued investigating, asking questions, and getting involved in the ceremonies of EGUNGUN. Then, after gaining their trust, I sat down with an elder who leads the Egungun religion in Bahia and asked questions until I gathered enough information to tell my story by using art. I will complete the creation of original masquerade costumes from traditional materials that can both be worn and displayed as sculpture installation. as well as collaborative dance pieces to perform in public spaces wearing the masquerade costumes.

From Fusebox The writings of philosopher Édouard Glissant emphasize the importance of an aesthetic of relation, in which processes of hybridisation and multiplicity that result from continued encounters of peoples and cultures acknowledge local rootedness to any global application. Though it is fundamentally based in West African ritualistic practices, Akirash’s multidisciplinary practice permeates transnational and transtemporal borders by embodying an amalgamation of symbolic translations of the connected experiences of citizens of the world large.


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