Masquerade is a public spectacle based on disguise. It conceals and resists knowledge. In many ways it is unknowable. But in the ethnographic museum masks are presented as if they reveal the mysteries of a culture and its cosmology. Museums pin them down in glass vitrines and furnish them with explanatory labels. As a result African masks are often presented as static symbols of the identity and material culture of rural communities from a bygone era. But masking has always been current, reflecting the times in which it is performed, and the landscapes - including cities - that masked spirits encounter.
A talk by one of the curators of Pitt Rivers Museum's current exhibition.