© Phyllis Galembo, Affianwan, Calabar South, Nigeria,, 2005

© Phyllis Galembo, Okpo Masquerade, Calabar South, Nigeria, 2005

© Phyllis Galembo, Sierra Leone, 2008-2009

“Photographer Phyllis Galembo wants to transform you. What you experience with her photographs of African masks and costumes is not simply another form of virtual tourism.[…] To see these costumes is to be transported inside them. Think of them as full-body masks. They often incorporate and mimic natural materials, such as grass, sticks and feathers. In that sense they emphasise the mediating importance of the costume. Put it on and you enter an in-between world, where the human and the non-human merge and exchange places, and the usual rules of nature and community are suspended. As Claude Levi-Strauss and Rene Girard have pointed out, the rituals that accompany the costumes are episodes of formlessness and redefinition of boundaries. In many cases, masking is not a portrayal but an embodiment – an act not of concealment but revelation. Human beings need such experiences to explain and order their world and, even more importantly, to renew it. Needless to say, the industrialised, bureaucratised world (East and West) has pushed such experiences into the background, even suppressed them. They are permissible primarily to children. That sense of suppression and loss may be why Galembo, who collects Halloween masks and children’s costumes, devotes such attention to detail in her African photographs. ‘This cultural material is precious, and the information in the photograph is critical,’ she says. ‘We need the colour and detail in order to understand the symbolic meaning and visual impact of these costumes.’ To capture that information, Galembo travels with a portable ‘studio’; simple backdrops she can set up even in the middle of the street during a parade. The negotiations to make the pictures are often elaborate, involving discussions with chiefs and ritual participants. And sometimes, as in Haiti, she has to get involved in the celebrations herself. There’s no standing on the sidelines.”

source: DAMNation.17, 2008

More of Phyllis’ work here

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