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- Wild Spirits -

26 January - 2 February 2020

BRAFA 2020, Brussels, Belgium

On the occasion of BRAFA 2020, Charles-Wesley Hourdé will have the pleasure of presenting a transversal exhibition - entitled Wild Spirits - on the theme of the animal mask in Western Africa. The exhibition will showcase a group of wooden masks, from secular traditions, with the contemporary photographs of Fatoumata Diabaté, who shows, by working on the masked portrait, the durability of a cultural heritage in Malian society.

Boldly combining pieces made more than a century apart, it is the decisive role of these supernatural zoomorphic entities, whose symbolic power permeates all the beliefs and legends of the peoples of West Africa, that the Wild Spirits exhibition aims to highlight.

Animal masks from Africa charm both the eye and the mind: their remarkable variety of shapes responds to their complexe symbolism. No matter how it is treated, the animal motif is significant, and transcends the mere appearance of the creature it represents. By borrowing their likeness to the hyena, the dog, the leopard or the elephant - partially or completely - the sculptor seeks not to copy nature but to materialize the invisible. These zoomorphic creatures, which are less animals than mythical supernatural entities, embody a set of encoded ideas and values.


The creation of these masks, as well as their danced performances, offered initiates the opportunity to come into contact with the forces of nature and to win their favors. Thus channeled, they could heal, protect or render justice. Capable of good and evil, masks were greatly respected. They express, through their forms as well as through the costume and performance of their dancer, the key importance of the animal as a model, symbol and mediator.


In all cultures, the relationship to the animal is marked by strong representations. Observed, hunted, imitated, the animal is a force of nature that man has sought to reconcile and appropriate. Within African traditions, it is the subject of legends and proverbs which, although they may seem playful, are nevertheless aimed at educating, initiating and edifying. This is what the contemporary Malian photographer Fatoumata Diabaté translates in her series entitled L’homme en animal. 


Born in 1980, Fatoumata Diabaté works between Montpellier and Bamako. The series L’homme en animal, photographed in 2011 and 2013, features a series of portraits of masked children. Monkeys, lions, rabbits and snakes respond to devils and beggars, each one producing its own fable, devoid of words. They seem to constitute the different facets of the same narrative, the ramifications of which are to be found in age-old rites and oral traditions.

Beyond the youth of the models and the playful nature of their masquerade, another story is being written. These portraits with hidden faces and striking presence, offer more than just the image of childhood: plastically and intellectually, they are in direct relationship with a set of traditions. Through these masks and staging, it is the symbolic power of the ancient processions that can be seen. Presented and embodied with gravity by their wearers, these masks of paper, fabric and cardboard are cultural reminiscences. And in the contemporary context, these portraits are ultimately charged with a plurality of meanings, of a broader scope. In the words of critic Yves Chatap, they are mirrors of our human condition.


Through the comparison of these contemporary pieces with ancient masks, it is both the aesthetic richness of the animal motif and its remarkable evocative power that the Wild Spirits exhibition proposes to celebrate.

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