Further on, in a section devoted to the continual evolution and reinvention of mask-making and masquerade traditions, British-Nigerian-American artist
presents a moving, personal video, titled The Invisible Man: The Weight of Absence
(2015). A portrait of loss, it stems from her own experience of losing important men in her life, including her father, an activist murdered for his work by the Nigerian government. It is centered on herself and her fellow Ogoni women, who are filmed slowly, gracefully performing the exhaustive weight of such absences with expressive faces, gestures, and bodies. Its centerpiece is a powerful, Janus-faced mask, whose two sides represent the pain and the anger that these losses provoke.
Ushering both this mask and this video into being was Saro-Wiwa’s formation of an all-women masquerade group, representing a radical break with the traditions of this male-dominated cultural form. In so doing, she connects with her Ogoni culture while pushing its masquerade practices into new territory—and, as Dumouchelle hopes, closer to all of us. Outlining another of the exhibition’s goals, he explains: “It’s about having artists of African descent really reclaim the narrative [of Africa and its cultures] and using this tradition to talk to us today about contemporary issues: about racism, homophobia, corruption, inequality. All of these issues are addressed through this universal language of masquerade.”