For over two decades, Phyllis Galembo has documented cultural and religious traditions in Africa and among the African Diaspora. Traveling widely throughout western and central Africa, and regularly to Haiti, her subjects are participants in masquerade events—traditional African ceremonies and contemporary costume parties and carnivals— who use costume, body paint, and masks to create mythic characters. Sometimes entertaining and humorous, often dark and frightening, her portraits document and describe the transformative power of the mask. With a title derived from the Haitian Creole word maské, meaning “to wear a mask”, this album features a selection of more than one hundred of the best of Galembo’s masquerade photographs to date organized in country-based chapters, each with her own commentary. The book is introduced by art historian and curator Chika Okeke-Agulu (himself a masquerade participant during his childhood in Nigeria), for whom Galembo’s photographs raise questions about the survival and evolution of masquerade tradition in the twenty-first century.
Phyllis Galembo (born in New York City, 1952) has been a professor in the Fine Arts Department of SUNY Albany since 1978. Galembo has made over twenty trips to sites of ritual masquerade in Africa and the Caribbean, capturing cultural performances with a subterranean political edge. Her photographs have been exhibited by museums including the American Museum of Natural History, New York; George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York; Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.; and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. In 1994, Galembo received a Senior Fulbright Research Award to photograph Kings, Chiefs and Women of Power: Images from Nigeria. In 2001 she received a Hasselblad Masters Award as well as an Artist’s Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She lives and works in New York City.