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Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) Presents Who Can Dance? Performing Gender in African Masquerades

Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) is to present Who Can Dance? focusing on West and Central African art from the museum’s collection to explore the ways that gender ideals are expressed in traditional African masquerade performances. Exhibition open November 20, 2010–May 15, 2011 .

The aesthetics of the mask reflect ideals of masculinity and femininity. For example, the smooth black surfaces of the Sande helmet mask represent feminine beauty of young Mende women while the ferocious visage of the Mgbedike headdress expresses the masculine bravery of Igbo warriors. Some Gelede masks represent Yoruba women, but are actually danced by men who dress like women and employ movements that mimic feminine attributes—thereby consciously playing with gender roles. The objects and masquerade performances discussed in this exhibition put into practice the theoretical claim that gender is “performed” through gestures, clothing, and actions.

Image: Gelede Mask Williams College Museum of Art

The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) houses over 12,000 works that span the history of art. The museum’s principle mission is to encourage multidisciplinary teaching through encounters with art objects that traverse time periods and cultures. An active, collecting museum, its strengths are in modern and contemporary art, photography, prints, and Indian painting. The museum is also noted for its stellar collection of American art from the late 18th century to the present. With the largest collection in the world of works by the brothers Charles and Maurice Prendergast, the museum is a primary center for study of these American artists in a transatlantic context of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Williams College Museum of Art
15 Lawrence Hall Drive, Ste 2
Williamstown, MA 01267
t:(413) 597-2429 f: (413) 458-9017

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