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Inventing Masks: Agency and History in the Art of the Central Pende [Hardcover]

Z. S. Strother
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 28, 1998 0226777324 978-0226777320 1
Who invents masks, and why? Such questions have rarely been asked, due to stereotypes of anonymous African artists locked into the reproduction of "traditional" models of representation. Rather than accept this view of African art as timeless and unchanging, Z. S. Strother spent nearly three years in Zaire studying Pende sculpture. Her research reveals the rich history and lively contemporary practice of Central Pende masquerade. She describes the intensive collaboration among sculptors and dancers that is crucial to inventing masks. Sculptors revealed that a central theme in their work is the representation of perceived differences between men and women. Far from being unchanging, Pende masquerades promote unceasing innovation within genres and invention of new genres. Inventing Masks demonstrates, through first hand accounts and lavish illustrations, how Central Pende masquerading is a contemporary art form fully responsive to twentieth-century experience.

"Its presentation, its exceptionally lively style, the perfection of its illustrations make this a stunning book, perfectly fitting for the study of a performing art and its content is indeed seminal. . . . A breakthrough."—Jan Vansina, African Studies Review

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Masks play an important part in the life of the Pende, as with many Central African peoples. Strother has produced an in-depth scholarly study of Pende masquerade traditions, especially during and following the colonial experience. What makes the book notable is Strother's focus on creativity and the processes of artistic innovation, which the author contends have kept those masking customs vital. While much of the research is based on the contemporary situation, a precolonial and early-colonial art history is also incorporated as an important part of the study. Accompanying the text are many illustrations of both museum objects and field photos (varied in quality and mostly black and white), an appendix, and an extensive bibliography. The writing style and vocabulary is academic, so anyone but students of African art will find the book a difficult read. Highly recommended for academic libraries with interests in art history or African studies.AEugene C. Burt, Art Inst. of Seattle Lib.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (March 28, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226777324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226777320
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 10.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,345,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A modern art form July 28, 2004
In the country then known as Zaire, and now as the Congo, Strother spent some time studying the Central Pende ethnic group. Specifically, she analysed the role that masks played in their society. The book has many photos of intricately designed masks. Pretty!

But the book is more than just nice pictures. Strother has conducted a serious anthropological study of what the masks represent and their history. Essentially, she shows that the construction and symbology are not some age old ritual. Rather, a virtue of her study is that she places the Pende masquerade as an active, modern art form. As legitimate as any contemporary art movement in a developed country. Too often, African art is only studied in retrospective mode. Strother shows otherwise.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pende Masquerades... An insightful Dichotomy!! August 17, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The specific information about the Pende within this publication goes well beyond the informative. I have an older Pende GIPOKO mask. I hoped to gain more insightful information about the people... I most certainly accomplished that. I'd like to express a few interesting aspects of this book, especially the subject surrounding mask invention (of which I found immensely intriguing);

1. Sculptors. Given the mobility of people and objects, we should consider whether mask or figure styles are regional or chronological. The Pende themselves divided their land into three regions; the north, the center, and the south. Sculptors are trained, and each develops and creates individial artisitic styles and initiatives. In 1963-1965, the Pende dispersed to avoid reprisal for not actively participating in the rebellion. Soliders burned and looted their villages. Hence, "Pendeland" is scattered and no longer centralized.

2. Masquerades. Masquerades built and cemented communities. And Pende culture has a vivid sense of itself as immigrants from Angola, which fled to escape the slave trade. It is a matrilineal society. "Uncles" hold much power over their sister's offspring causing the maternal family relationships to be precarious. Their interest in building a communal society is the most admired virtue. Hoarding and bias provoke insults, envy and potential malice. The danger is that malice may lead to sorcery or "wanga"... "Wanga" (and the nganga) stand as the lynchpin of the ethical system to redistribute goods. A "nganga" emphasizes he cannot strike without ethical cause. Pende masquerading can illustrate this point. Masquerades provide a safe and socially sanctioned means for personal distinction while contributing to the health of the community through care and respect.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"Inventing Masks: Agency and History in the Art of the Central Pende" is the most complete book on the arts of Central and Eastern Pende ever printed until today. This book is wonderful - it contains detailed informations and plenty of pictures about each type of mask from Central and Eastern Pende tribes - it is a university book, not just a commercial standard book. If you want to know something precise about Pende tribe, this is the right book.
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