Friday, September 18, 2009

The Egungun

"Egungun masks are regarded as physical representations of ancestral spirits. ... as representations of spirits, the masks do not portray dead individuals, per se...

"Egungun performances reshape perceptions of the world and give concrete form to ontological concepts. Ritual specialists bring that which is normally inaccessible, unseen, or imagined, into the phenomenal world where it can be observed and contemplated. Through a practical mastery of performance techniques, the maskers manipulate the perceptual world, the world as it is experienced daily; they play upon, embellish, and transform reality. The "as if" becomes "is" as illusion becomes its own reality, or more appropriately, illusion reveals an otherwise undisclosed reality. The performers possess "ase", the power to bring things into existence"

from Yoruba Ritual by Margaret Thompson Drewal

This is parallel to the aim of You'll Always Come Back ~ itself an improvised ritual.

"The improvised ritual is workshop, rehearsal, and finished performance all at the same time. It is the occasion when masters continue to refine their skills and when neophytes learn in plain sight of everyone. That is part of the attraction."


"The performance process is a continuous rejecting and replacing. Long running shows - and certainly rituals are these - are not dead repetitions but continuous erasings and superimposings. The overall shape of the show stays the same, but pieces of business are always coming and going. This process of collecting and discarding, of selecting, organizing, and showing, is what rehearsals are all about. And its not such a rational, logical-linear, process as writing about it makes it seem. It's not so much a thought-out system of trial and error as it is a playing around with themes, actions, gestures, fantasies, words; whatever's being worked on. From all the doing, some things are done again, and again; they are perceived in retrospect as "working," and they are "kept." They are, as it were, thrown forward in time to be used in the "finished performance."

from Between Theater and Anthropology by Richard Schechner

Ajala sent these photographs of the Egungun mask without explanation, so I'm improvising....


William said...

I dig the tilted heads in the relief piece. I think that simple gesture adds a lot of meaning.

Dan Dutton said...

I've read that the Yoruba consider themselves to be very urbane and sophisticated (they've been living in towns for a long time) ~ perhaps an aspect of that is a seeming progression in their visual art from naturalism in the past to a ever-more whimsical stylization at present. Ajala is sharing so much great stuff with me that I'm having a hard time keeping soaking it all up.