west african masquerade

I came across some of these fantastic images whilst browsing jewellery designer Natalia Milosz-Pierkarska’s blog The ‘Ah Ha’. The photographs – portraits of masqueraders taken in Nigeria – were taken by Phyllis Galembo who has travelled to Nigeria, Cuba, Brazil, Jamaica and Haiti, documenting the costumes worn by traditional priests and priestesses, carnival masqueraders, dancers, and Haitian voodoo practitioners. Forming the body of work for an past exhibition at the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs, the press release explains that:

The outfits run a gamut of dramatic designs and shapes, from striped-knit bodysuits to appliquéd fabric costumes as voluminous as tents. They might represent male or female entities, animals like elk and jaguar, or various spirits. As art writer Anne Doran pointed out, “Galembo’s primary interest is the wearer’s belief in the power of ritual costume to alter their everyday reality.”

What I found most exciting about these images was not simply the costumes themselves, but the beautiful manner in which they were photographed. Their square format and considered choice of background – whether in contrast to or in compliment of the garment – render them stunning works that I would love to have framed on my wall at home.


I could with ease study these images time and again, and if I was still at uni I am sure that I would be tempted to base a project inspired by the colour, form, material and meaning of the costumes that the West African masqueraders wear. For more pictures and information, visit the Tang Museum website.

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