Masquerades and Homecomings
In December of 2010 I found myself in the presence of one of my childhood nightmares. The last time I was in Nigeria was 1996, I was a kindergartner and generally unaware of all the pomp and ceremony related to my grandfather's funeral. However, I did have the distinct memory of sheer terror. I remember being surprised by a crowd of young boys and men running along side an ornately clad, faceless figure wielding a machete. The crowd taunted the phantom, proclaiming their bravado by getting as close to his menacing blades as their machismo would allow. I knew it was all an act, but as a seven-year old I was anxious and transfixed. I was pretty sure the next thing that was going to happen were screams and a mess of severed flying limbs.
Flash-forward 14 years to my grandmother's funeral and I found myself willingly escorting my cousins to see a masquerade perform on Boxing Day. Instead of terror I was completely enchanted by this hulking figure. The familiar posse of men and boys still goaded him, but I was paying less attention to them, and more to the masquerade's performance. He was completely in tune with the music. Every beat was a step or a nod or a wave. His costume became an instrument, too. Not just completely disguising his features, but it became an extension of his movement. His hands were replaced with elongated sleeves that played an accented note, with his fringes enunciating a spin.
A couple months later I was introduced to Nick Cave's beautiful soundsuits. His amalgamations of found objects and textiles seamlessly blend the pageantry of costume and performance while tackling issues of race and identity. In the way the masquerade's dress consumed his performance, Cave's soundsuits strip the wearer of personal identity to the point where everything they do is the suit. Every movement is dictated by the materials and what they'll allow. Cave's wearable sculptures reference many cultures, but to me they're reminiscent of a tradition that I once found frightening, but now fondly appreciate as artistic expression and a part of my complicated definition of home.
Check out Artsy's Five Questions For: Nick Cave.
My photograph of masquerade performing in Abonnema, Nigeria.