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The Shaman's Mask and the Invention of Culture with John Nunley

A talk by John Nunley that explores the origins of masking and shamanism from the ancient Far East and the Himalayas to the slave trade and the Black Diaspora. Presented in conjunction with the James Cohan Gallery.4 pm $12

A talk by John Nunley that explores the origins of masking and shamanism from the ancient Far East and the Himalayas to the slave trade and the Black Diaspora. Presented in conjunction with the James Cohan Gallery.

A talk presented in conjunction with the James Cohan Gallery's exhibition MASK, which explores the many forms and uses of masks throughout history and the influence they lend to contemporary artists. MASK will comprise a collection of more than 40 masks assembled by Joseph G. Gerena Fine Art, dating from 700 BCE through the 20th century and representing all continents and many cultural traditions. These masks will be shown alongside works by 30 contemporary artists, including several specifically commissioned for the exhibition.

Through mask rituals and performances shamans became "other selves" and "were-animals" in order to tap spiritual energies from the invisible world in times of crisis. Through the ability to abstract in spirit form the entropy of nature and the terrific forces of birth, aging and death, humans created cosmologies that have served as blueprints for sustaining social living and survival. In the heart of darkness and the turbulent times of slavery, African masks and performances reflected in form and content the harsh realities of the slave trade and renewed Black Identities in the Americas. Where masked shamans have journeyed into the soulful world of spiritual space in a realm beyond the earth, masked astronauts have explored the realm of outer space. These two kinds of masks represent the dilemma of human beings today as we stand between the older soulful world of spiritual space and the new outer space of physics and science.

Dr. John W. Nunley received his PhD from the University of Washington in 1976. His thesis was based on his field experience in Northern Ghana where he was apprenticed to a diviner amongst the Sisala people from 1972 to1973. He taught at the University of Illinois from 1974 to 1982 and at the at St. Louis Art Museum has been the Morton D. May Curator of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas since 1982. He has been the recipient of two Fulbright–Hays Post Doctoral Research Grants for Freetown Sierra Leone (1977- 1978) and another for Trinidad and Tobago (1990 - 1991). Nunley's first book, Moving with the Face of the Devil/ Art and Politics in Urban West Africa is in part of study of urban gangs and masquerades in Freetown and the role of Blood Diamonds. Among his exhibitions and publications by the same titles include: Caribbean Festival Arts and Masks/faces of Culture. The Caribbean book and exhibition opened in 1988 and the mask project opened in1999; both shows traveled extensively to major museums. Nunley is currently writing and lecturing on the subject of Atlantic Rim festivals and their African and European elements. He is also working on a book and exhibition entitled African Art and the Experience with a sequel African Diaspora and the Experience of Art.