Bembe mask used for politics

A protester opposed to the Burundian President’s third term wears a traditional mask near a burning barricade in Bujumbura, Burundi, recently. It is right on the border with the PRC. The area is heavily populated with the Bembe people.

This comes from an article in The Atlantic called The Masks We Wear, by Alan Taylor, May 26, 2015. It contains 30 excellent photos of authentic masks.

“We wear masks for many reasons: for fun, for protection, or to make a statement. In turbulent public settings, obscuring one’s face can protect an individual from retaliation while evoking fear and uncertainty in others. Donning the mask of a cultural, political, or religious figure can lend that person power and further his or her legacy. Those who wear masks to protect their faces from environmental hazards may also end up sending a message of caution to outside observers. In many cases, though, masks play a more lighthearted role, allowing the wearer to take part in a festival and become someone (or something) else for a time. Once more, I’ve gathered here a few recent images of people wearing masks, covering their faces for a wide variety of reasons.”

This article reminds us of how folk art, especially masks, continues to evolve. What you see in books and museums often suggests that their cultural artifacts hardly ever change in form or function. Not so.

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