Museum of musical instruments in Phoenix: “Masks and music of the Congo”

The Phoenix house of musical instruments around the world has turned to Central Africa this year.

In response to the popularity of the Africa and Middle East Gallery, the Musical Instrument Museum has expanded its exploration of the music and ceremonies of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with a special exhibit. “Congo Masks and Music: Masterpieces from Central Africa” ​​runs until September 13th.

This is “the first exhibition to fully contextualize masks alongside musical instruments in their authentic performance settings,” according to the MIM website. The 170-piece collection features instruments such as whistles, harps and xylophones as well as ceremonial masks, shown both on their own and with mannequins in full costume that date from the late 1800s to early 1900s .

“It’s rare to find these things together,” Deputy Director and Chief Curator Manuel Jordán told The Arizona Republic. “Normally you would have to go to New York or Paris, so we’re lucky… to be able to bring this to Arizona. “

Objects representing the tradition of the masquerade connect humans with ancestors, display wealth and power, and provide entertainment and celebration.

“What we wanted was to show how rich and diverse these art forms are,” Jordán said. “These are not decorative items; they have life and they are very meaningful.

What are the must-have items?

The Masks and Music of the Congo exhibition at the Musical Instruments Museum: Masterpieces of Central Africa features more than 150 masks, instruments and costumes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  These are among the 12 mannequins dressed in full ceremonial outfits.

While everything in the exhibit is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jordán said the artifacts can cover a variety of cultures, especially those of people in border countries.

He explained some of the masks that could catch the eyes of visitors.

The Kifwebe male mask is an example of “the incredible aesthetic quality of African art,” Jordán said. “This mask is a very powerful being who establishes order and social control.”

The Ngady Mwaash mask, with its pearls and cowry accents, can indicate the class and rank of the wearer in society. The one on display represents a female chief and is “a statement of power and authority by value because cowries (shells) are like money; pearls are like money.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the 12 life-size mannequins wearing authentic outfits and masks and holding instruments. They help the viewer understand how the pieces are used and worn.

Throughout the exhibition, guided tours by the curators usually take place on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. They are included in the admission. And towards the end of the exhibition, special programs are planned to allow children to become interested in the material. Check the MIM events calendar for dates and times.

How the exhibition came together

“Congo Masks and Music” was conceived about 2 years ago and it only took about a year to conserve the artefacts – a fairly accelerated process in “museum years,” Jordán said.

An Africanist who studies the cultures and societies that make up the continent, he has done research in Zambia and Botswana and has worked alongside the Zambian, Angolan and Congolese populations. Jordán and Marc Felix, member of the board of directors of MIM, international expert in African art and main lender of the exhibition, co-organized the exhibition.

“What we did was we extracted a selection of some of Congo’s most important instruments… to find a way to contextualize them,” Jordán said. “We thought of masquerades because it is such an important and vibrant art form in Africa.”

The exhibition includes instruments from the Museum of Africa in Belgium and the permanent collection of MIM; the masks are mostly borrowed from Felix’s private collection. The curators were also able to acquire original images, which are presented throughout the exhibition, of the masks, instruments and outfits used during the ceremonial performances.

“(The collection) ended up being a really nice marriage of these art forms,” Jordán said.

“Masks and music from the Congo: masterpieces from Central Africa”

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until September 13.

Or: Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix.

Admission: $ 10 for the exhibition only, $ 4 for 4-19 year olds. $ 27 when purchased with general admission to the museum, $ 19 for 13 to 19 year olds, $ 14 for 4 to 12 year olds.

Details: 480-478-6000,

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or at 602-444-4968. Follow her on Twitter @kimirobin.

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