Jordan Fenton, Associate Professor of Art History, was awarded a $500,000 National Endowment for the Humanities, Exhibition Implementation Grant, along with Amanda M. Maples (Project Director and Curator at New Orleans Museum of Art) and Co-Author Lisa Homann (Associate Professor of Art History at UNC Charlotte). The grant supports the implementation of the internationally traveling art history exhibition, New Masks Now: Artists Innovating Masquerade in Contemporary West Africa.
The NEH grant will support costs for the execution, installation, community engagement, programming, and implementation of this exhibition to various venues across North America and West Africa after the project premieres at the New Orleans Museum of Art in April of 2025. The exhibition will also be on view for six months at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, in 2026-2027. The grant will also support a 2-year public humanities position related to public engagement and programing for the exhibition, as well as the publication of a 250-page edited volume that will carry the same title of the exhibition.
New Masks Now: Artists Innovating Masquerade in Contemporary West Africa showcases four modern masquerade artists (Hervé Youmbi, Chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, David Sanou, and Sheku Fofanah) from Cameroon, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Sierra Leone. It explores their artistic contexts, motivations, choices, and engagement with patronage and economic networks, highlighting the contemporary nature of African masquerade. Unlike traditional presentations of masquerades as products of entire cultures, this exhibition focuses on individual creators and their nuanced stories. It also addresses the ethical aspects of working with artists from formerly colonized spaces. The accompanying edited volume will further unpack research methodologies, commissioning practices, representation, and ethical considerations.
An Idem Nkanda masquerade ensemble, which Fenton acquired as part of an ethical commission, is currently on display at the Richard and Carole Cocks Art Museum. The masquerade ensemble will be part of the NEH funded international exhibition. Read more about it here.
image below: Chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa with assistants at work on masquerade commissions, Calabar, Nigeria, 2022