Quite an experience in Zimbabwe

Tom R. Chambers
Documentary Photographer/Visual Artist
Since I have an affinity towards the Traditional African mask form, and expressed a desire to the National Gallery of Zimbabwe to mount a personal exhibition, I capped-off my three-year stay in this country with an exhibition entitled, "Variations on the Dan Mask." Part of the installation at the Gallery is seen to the left. The exhibition was opened by the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, and it was well-received. I like two comments made by my African friends: "Great Concept - very modern. Economic, yet powerful. Congratulations, Tom!" (Tony Mhonda, Art Critic); "Congratulations, makorokoto, amhlope - our son and all the best for the future!" (The Chakanyuka Family).
I generated a conceptual body of work that offers my feelings and interpretations of the mask form and a contemporized 'look' at Traditional African aesthetics. I chose the simplistic approach of using the photographic process through the 'Photogram Technique': The 'Photogram Technique' is a simple technique of placing an object onto a piece of photographic paper then exposing by light to reveal the object's form. In this case, I used a Traditional African mask from the Dan Tribe in Eastern Liberia (a piece from the Permanent Collection: PC - 6400 - 0147) as the object, then manipulated the non-exposed area generated from the original mask form to vary the 'look'. The process of the mask actually making contact with the photographic paper, each time, is an important aspect (spiritually?) of this transference from a Traditional form to a Contemporary one ... or in otherwords, the contemporization (through manipulation of the 'Photogram Technique') of the mask form remains within the confines of the Traditional form (through direct contact), but borders on Contemporary Abstract Art that reduces natural appearances to simplified forms. Having said the above, I also like the perpetuation/re-interpretation ... through contemporization utilizing the medium of photography ... of the mask form, even though it perpetually remains an aesthetic piece in its own right. The original mask and four samples follow: