Phyllis Galembo – Masquerade

Portraits of masqueraders – Galembo has spent the past twenty-five years photographing rituals and religious culture in Africa, Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and Mexico.

Akata Dance Masqueraders, Ogoja, Nigeria, 2004, Ilfochrome, printed 2011, edition 3/5, 30″ x 30″ It is the ancestor’s responsibility to compel the living to uphold the ethical standards of past generations.

Akata Dance Masquerade, Cross River, Nigeria, 2004, Ilfochrome, 30 x 30 inches, Through costume, drumming and dance, these masqueraders become possessed with the spirits of the ancestors.

Ringo (Big Deer) Masquerade Kroo Bay, Sierra Leone 2008. The cowhead, the horsehead, the devil are frequent participants.

Gelede Masquerade, Agonli Village, Benin, 2006, Ilfochrome, 30 x 30 inches. The ancestors when invoked, spiritually clean the community and through exaggerated miming demonstrate both ethical and amoral activities with hopes of encouraging behavior deemed suitable to the spirit and traditions of the ancestors.

Zambia, 2007. The masquerade plays a number of important roles in the community: spiritually, it marks both festive and solemn occasions; politically, it provides an opportunity to reaffirm or negate loyalty to a chief or politician; and culturally it teaches reverence and tradition to the young.

Atam Masquerader, Alok Village, Nigeria, 2004, Ilfochrome, 30 x 30 inches. African masking generally invokes deities, nature spirits and ancestors. When a person wears the mask, that person takes on the entity that the mask represents.

Ekong Ikon Ukom, Calabar, Nigeria, 2005, Ilfochrome, 50 x 50 inches β€œBands of spirits” are shown honor and reverence during their visitation.

Yaie Masquerade, Bansie Village, Burkina Faso, 2006, Ilfochrome, 30 x 30 inches

Gama Masquerade, Fada Village, Burkina Faso, 2006, Ilfochrome, 30 x 30 inches Masking traditions are of great importance to the Edo groups of Nigeria, who trace their beginnings to the kingdom of Benin, their neighbors to the south.

Creek Town Youth Group, Ekpo Masquerade, Calabar, Nigeria, 2005

Ilfochrome, printed 2008, 1 of 5, 30 x 30 inches

Chief Oadume Uwabidie of Issele-Uku, Nigeria, 1994

Ekpokang Masquerade, Calabar South, Nigeria, 2004. An initiation ceremony.

Ilfochrome, printed 2008, 1 of 5, 30 x 30 inches

Ekpokang, Calabar South, Nigeria, 2005, Ilfochrome, 30 x 30 inches. Mukanda is an initiation ceremony where boys learn about their future roles as husbands and fathers.

Les Indiens, Jacmel Carnival Haiti, 1997, Cibachrome print. Each year, Jacmel, a coastal town in Southern Haiti, holds pre-Lenten Mardi Gras Festivities.

Chaloskas, Jacmel, Haiti 2009. Troupes of ‘performers’ act out mythological and political tales whose roots are in medieval carnival, but the Haitian masquerades are also a fusion of Vodou, African influence, political satire and personal inspiration.

Mexican Masquerade Los Faruseos 2008. The tradition of carnivals, masquerades, masking, mime, and street parades is a long one…

Okao Aiwerioghene, Benin City, 1991

Phyllis Galembo describes her images as both ‘artistic and anthropological.’ She studied photography and printmaking at the University of Wisconsin, and is now a professor of fine art at Albany University in New York. She first traveled to Nigeria to photograph priests and priestesses in 1985. ‘I was fascinated by the idea of ritual clothes that had spiritual, transforming power. I followed the story to Haiti, where the priests and priestesses of voodoo are believed to transform via their clothing into magical beings. Once I discovered the Jacmel Kanaval [Haiti’s pre-Lenten festival], I felt I had found my metier in the masquerade.’*

Much more in Galembo’s book, Maske:

Phyllis Galembo is represented by Steven Kasher Gallery in New York.

Public and Private Collections:

Houston Museum of Art, Houston,Texas; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, NY; Polaroid Corporation, Boston, Massachusetts; Rockefeller Foundation, New York, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, Photography Study Collection, New York. – See more at:

Written by Seth Kolloen

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