The Invisible Man: “The Weight of Absence” (2015) Video Triptych
Commissioned by Seattle Art Museum, the work is a statement in evolving the way that African masks are displayed and “brought to life” within a museum context. As Saro-Wiwa sees it, there is an emotional and cognitive disconnection to African masks displayed in museums and even in the performance of masquerade on the ground. This work attempts to describe a different kind of life of the mask. Saro-Wiwa says:
“They say that there is a world between the face and the mask. This work attempts to describe this world and the wearers experience. I want to ‘perform’ the mask in a new way.”
This work and the very creation of Saro-Wiwa’s mask attempts to bring emotional discourse and connectivity to a masquerade practise whose psycho-emotional geographies are diffuse: “Traditional masks in Ogoniland talk about farming, make political statements and are used for entertainment. But I wanted to use masquerade go within and open up emotional terrains. The Invisible Man is about a fear of mine, a burden I have carried. Men who have disappeared in my life or are hard to find.”
Masquerade culture in Nigeria and many parts of West Africa is dominated by men. Saro-Wiwa had been told that masks were “too heavy” for women to wear prompting Zina to think about the physical and emotional burdens carried by women in the Niger Delta and all over Africa. Saro-Wiwa created an all-female troupe to challenge the culture. The women in Saro-Wiwa’s troupe feature on the right hand panel of the work offer a new kind of performance:
“I recorded women’s weariness. The women had either danced with the mask or they had just returned from the farm in Ogoniland. Women are culturally required to carry huge burdens, physically and emotionally and are therefore more than capable of wearing the mask and representing their own culture.”
The work has been shown at Seattle Art Museum, the Fowler Museum, the Brooklyn Museum and Bamako Biennale.