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A photo of a Kuba mask against a black background.

August – Week 1 – Kuba Masquerade

Earlier this year I saw an exhibition about sculptures from the southwest of Congo. It was an incredible exhibition that made me realize just how little I know about African artistic traditions. In particular, I was awed by the many different masks on display that were used for various ceremonies, rituals, and religious rites. I wanted to learn more about these masks and artistic traditions behind them. Which is how I landed on this month’s topic. Kuba Masquerade.

I should note at this point that I’m a week into this topic and I still don’t really know anything about Kuba Masquerade. This is because I spent most of this past week doing background research. Remember what I said before about not knowing much about African artistic traditions? Well, it really would be more accurate to say that I don’t know nearly enough about African history in general.

For example, the Kuba Kingdom? Where this month’s topic comes from? I didn’t know anything about it. But now I know that it was a traditional kingdom in Central Africa that flourished between the 17th and 19th centuries. Kuba encompasses nearly 19 different ethnic groups who originally migrated from the north. In 1625, Shyamm a-Mbul united all of the chiefdoms under his leadership and the Kuba Kingdom was born. The region that was once the Kuba Kingdom is now the modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Next up, I discovered that there are two very different uses for the term masquerade. When I hear the word masquerade, I think of masquerade parties. Guests in fancy costumes and masks. The Phantom of the Opera. However, what I learned this week is that these are all examples of masquerade balls. A masquerade ceremony, on the other hand, is a religious or cultural event that involves wearing masks. Very different.

Kuba masquerades are known to be some of the most sophisticated and beautiful in all of Africa. And from what I can find online, the masks are incredible. I can’t wait to learn more about them over the coming weeks. However, I’m also very aware that this topic will be very different from the other topics I’ve chosen so far in this challenge. Yes, Kuba masquerade is an artistic tradition. But it is also a very important cultural and religious tradition, and I want to be respectful of that.

For example, I know that even if I were to travel to the former region of Kuba, it is likely that I will never experience this art in person. And that’s okay. It’s not for me. More importantly, I would never want to disrespect these traditions by implying that they are something to be gawked at. My goal for this month is simply to expand my knowledge of African artistic traditions, and to gain a better understanding of how these traditions impacted the art and culture of the Kuba kingdom. As always with The Daily Hart, I just want to learn so that I can better appreciate art. In all its forms.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!