The Masks We Wear
- Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) and Memory Studio
- Institute of Contemporary Art, Slought
Project Support Grant
The Masks We Wear is a Virtual Reality experience that explores the concept of the mask within the context of the African Diaspora as an artifact, cultural signifier, connection between salient points in history, and instrument used for oppression and liberation. It combines the study of material culture with oral tradition through the lens of Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol from the Akan in Ghana derived from the words “san” to return, “kan” to go, and “fa” to seek and take. Often depicted as a mythical bird with its feet firmly placed forward and its neck turned backwards holding an egg in its beck, Sankofa embraces the idea that society must look to its past to understand the present and ensure a viable future.
The Masks We Wear encourages the viewer to reflect upon the strategies needed to overcome state sanctioned oppressive systems, specifically as it pertains to the chattel slavery imposed upon Black people in the United States. It is a digitally rendered Virtual Reality experience accessible through a headset housed within a 3D printed African mask. The viewer engages with a series of speculative exercises that explore fugitivity and freedom, using the principle of Sankofa as a means for liberation. The headset functions as a portal to a fictional universe where participants negotiate the process of becoming free. This experience is a catalyst to replace the antiquated systems that have long governed society with new paradigms that are truly rooted in the collective.
Memory Studio is a joint venture between current Penn students and alumni Malkia Okech, Breanna Moore and Vanjessica Gladney, artist Emerson Ruffin, Slought Foundation, and the Institute of Contemporary Art. It is innovative and experimental, proposing a new way of engagement with historical evidence and information through future-oriented speculative exercise. Okech and Moore will facilitate workshops at Slought that will invite people to become part of the development process.