Unmasked: Spirit in the City
An exhibition by David Pratten and Zina Saro-Wiwa
28 Jan 2023 – 7 Jan 2024
Masquerade is a public spectacle based on disguise. It conceals and resists knowledge. In many ways it is unknowable. But in the ethnographic museum masks are presented as if they reveal the mysteries of a culture and its cosmology. Museums pin them down in glass vitrines and furnish them with explanatory labels. As a result African masks are often presented as static symbols of the identity and material culture of rural communities from a bygone era. But masking has always been current, reflecting the times in which it is performed, and the landscapes - including cities - that masked spirits encounter.
This is what Unmasked: spirit in the city investigates. A collaboration between Port Harcourt-born British-Nigerian artist Zina Saro-Wiwa and Oxford anthropologist David Pratten, who tell a very different story about the meaning of the cultural practice known as masquerade. This show combines anthropology and contemporary art to capture the complex emotional stories behind a modern urban masquerade called Agaba.