MIM’s newest exhibition, Congo Masks and Music: Masterpieces from Central Africa, offers a glimpse into the dramatic and lively masquerade traditions of Central Africa with an exclusive collection of more than 150 stunning and rare masks, instruments, and costumes from the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Exclusively at MIM
Curated by Manuel Jordán, MIM’s deputy director and chief curator, and Marc Felix, MIM board member and international expert on African art, Congo Masks and Music explores the connections between masks and musical instruments while reflecting the diverse settings of masquerades. Masquerades take place for a variety of reasons—to educate, entertain, demonstrate power, and connect humans with the spirit world.
Go Behind the Masks
Masks represent powerful supernatural beings that come to life in human, animal, or hybridized form. Through music and dance, masks dramatize and articulate different peoples’ worldviews, histories, religious beliefs, and morals. Constructed out of materials including wood, feathers, beads, fiber, and metal, the intricate masks showcase remarkable artistry and craftsmanship representative of dozens of Congolese cultural groups.
Experience the Performances
Congo Masks and Music is the first exhibition to fully contextualize masks alongside musical instruments in their authentic performance settings. The collection features an array of musical instruments, including drums, bells, rattles, whistles, thumb pianos, xylophones, and harps, paired together with corresponding masks and full masquerade costumes. Many instruments visually reference particular masks.
Exclusive archival photography and video footage featuring masks and traditional music performed in ceremonies allows guests to fully experience one of Africa’s most vibrant traditions.
Pende masquerade at Lufushi, Congo (Democratic Republic); Photograph by Léon de Sousberghe, c. 1957; EEPA 1999-100042; Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives; National Museum of African Art; Smithsonian Institution