Arts + Culture

Fowler Museum presents ‘Disguise: Masks and Global African Art’

Neo Primitivism 2

“Neo Primitivism 2,” 2007–14, by Brendan Fernandes. Installation with plastic masks, deer decoys and vinyl spears.

A critically acclaimed exhibition exploring 21st century artistic evocations of the African mask and contemporary forms of disguise will open at the Fowler Museum on October 18.

In honor of “Disguise: Masks and Global African Art,” the Fowler will host a party on October 17 to celebrate the creativity and drama of African art, culture, music and dance. Three artists featured in the exhibition will be present at the opening and will participate in live performances throughout the museum.

This exhibition, organized by the Seattle Art Museum, brings together contemporary artists working in Africa and America. Over the past two years, the Seattle Art Museum’s Pamela McClusky and Erika Dalya Massaquoi sought out artists who explore the idea of disguise in their work. Twelve contemporary artists — six from Africa and six Americans of African heritage — were selected to represent the core themes of the show, and eight of those artists were commissioned to produce new works specifically for the exhibition. The artists were encouraged to use the Seattle Art Museum’s collection of African masks as inspiration for creating fresh visions of masquerade, and examples of the same types of masks from the Fowler collection will be on display in the exhibition. 

These contemporary artists use the idea of disguise to hide their identities while revealing issues of social, political or cultural importance in their work. The act of altering or concealing one’s identity is at the core of traditional African masquerade, though with an important addition — an individual’s identity is not only concealed but entirely transformed.

These artists use a variety of creative mediums, including drawing, photography, video, sculpture, performance and installation. Emeka Ogboh composed a soundtrack that sets a base pulse to the gallery experience. Other artists use video to document their performance-based commissions that showcase disguises being enacted in city streets, forests and museum galleries. Two women artists, Zina Saro-Wiwa and Wura-Natasha Ogunji, performed and documented their own masquerades in Nigeria. Brendan Fernandes unleashes a herd of fake animals wearing masks he created, while Saya Woolfalk stages the visit of a new species to impart wisdom about human and animal relations. 

“The Invisible Man,” by Zina Saro-Wiwa, 2015.

“Where disguise in African masquerade is a tool facilitating transformation, these contemporary artists use it to comment on the challenges and complexities of our increasingly digital and globalized lives,” said Marla C. Berns, Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum.

“The artists meld carved wooden sculptural forms with new electronic media; they create spaces for women in masking traditions formerly dominated by men; they challenge our understandings of what constitutes authenticity in African masks; and they stimulate questions about the heritage of African masquerade and the invention of modern Western art.”

Full list of featured artists: Jakob Dwight, Brendan Fernandes, Nandipha Mntambo, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Saya Woolfalk, Emeka Ogboh, Walter Oltmann, Sondra R. Perry, Jacolby Satterwhite, Sam Vernon, William Villalongo, Zina Saro-Wiwa.

Major support for the Los Angeles presentation of “Disguise” is provided by the Barbara and Joseph Goldenberg Fund, the Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director’s Discretionary Fund, an anonymous donor, the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation, Dallas Price-Van Breda, and Manus, the support group of the Fowler Museum. Additional support comes from the Fowler Contemporary Council and the following members: Susan Burnett and Steve Dyer, Bronya and Andy Galef, Sarah and Bill Odenkirk, and Valerie and Brad Cohen. KCRW is a media sponsor.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country’s most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from noon until 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $12 in Lot 4. For more information, the public may call 310-825-4361 or visit


Opening Celebration

Saturday, October 17

6:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Members’ Preview

Members mingle with “Disguise” artists, curators and special guests while enjoying light bites by Fundamental LA and cocktails by Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

7:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
Artists’ Panel

Presentations by “Disguise” artists Brendan Fernandes, Wura-Natasha Ogunji and Saya Woolfalk will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by exhibition curator Pamela McClusky.

8:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m. 
Opening Party

Exhibition preview, cocktails and beats by Afro Funké DJs Jeremy Sole of KCRW and Glenn Red of La Junta, plus exciting live performances created by “Disguise” artists. Experience artist Brendan Fernandes’ African masquerade in a compelling site specific performance. Saya Woolfalk’s costumed fictional group of women, called Empathics, will perform with meditation and dance segments. And Wura-Natasha Ogunji will perform a special interactive piece called “The Kissing Mask.” Wearing a mask she has created specifically for this performance, Ogunji will kiss audience members who approach her. RSVP by October 9 to or 310-206-7001.

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