Professor to Co-curate NEH-funded International Exhibition of West African Masquerade Artists

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Associate Professor of Art History Lisa Homann is a key member of a team developing the internationally traveling exhibition New Masks Now: Artists Innovating Masquerade in Contemporary West Africa. The exhibition is organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art and supported by a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

After successfully completing a planning phase funded by the NEH in 2021-22, Homann co-wrote a successful NEH Implementation Grant with Jordan Fenton, Associate Professor of art history at Miami University, Ohio, and Amanda Maples, Françoise Billion Richardson Curator of African Art at New Orleans Museum of Art. The 2023-27 NEH grant provides $400,000 to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) to support the implementation of the exhibition and publication and an additional $100,000 for a two-year public humanities position to create associated public programs. Earlier this month, NOMA announced that Simeneh Gebremariam would serve in that role.

With Maples and Fenton, Homann serves as co-curator of the traveling exhibition as well as co-editor and co-author of its accompanying publication. Aimé Kantoussan, Research Director at the Musée des Civilisations Noires/Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal, and Hervé Youmbi, a leading contemporary artist in Cameroon, are research collaborators and contributing authors.


New Masks Now: Artists Innovating Masquerade in Contemporary West Africa will highlight the voices and perspectives of four contemporary West African artists working with the medium of masquerade: Hervé Youmbi of Cameroon, Chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa of Nigeria, David Sanou of Burkina Faso, and Sheku Fofanah of Sierra Leone. After opening in spring 2025 at the New Orleans Museum of Art, the North American exhibition will travel to the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, Tennessee; the Mint Museum in Charlotte; the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; and the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida. A concurrent exhibition will open at the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, traveling from there to the Sierra Leone National Museum in Freetown and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Calabar, Nigeria.

A specialist in West African masquerade practices from the late 19th century to the present, Homann’s scholarship has focused on Burkina Faso for nearly two decades. She first traveled there in 2006 and in the years since has developed deep and longstanding relationships with artists, dancers, blacksmiths, griots (musicians), patrons, chiefs, and boosters of masquerade in the region. In 2008, she met the renowned masquerade sculptor André Sanou.

“During one of our conversations, André asked if I might be able to find him venues to show his work in the US,” Homann has written for the exhibition publication. “I suggested that my scholarship (then forthcoming) would publicize his artistry abroad, potentially putting him in a better position to garner commissions. He agreed.”

Having taught his son David Sanou the art of carving, André Sanou retired in 2009, and David took over his father’s studio.

“I was revising an article about André’s work when the elder sculptor passed away,” Homann wrote. “I was able to attend his wake and the grand funeral in which masks emerged in his honor.”

Lisa Homann with David Sanou in Burkina Faso studioi

Masquerade artist David Sanou with Lisa Homann in the artist’s studio, Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, 2022.

Between 2019 and 2022, Homann worked with David Sanou, his family, a blacksmith, another maker, several chiefs, colleagues, and friends to commission four full-body daytime masquerade ensembles for three U.S.-based museums. In 2022, David Sanou told Homann, “I want people to know that dad himself wanted to do this during his lifetime but well…God has changed things. [Dad] couldn’t do it, but it was his will.”

Homann is returning to Burkina Faso in March to commission two more ensembles: one for the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal and another for the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC. All of those ensembles will be part of the New Masks Now exhibition.

“My goal was to ethically commission and acquire the works in a manner that respected and benefitted their creators, masquerade authorities, patrons, and researcher, while minimizing negative effects,” Homann wrote. “It was by virtue of my long-term relationships with masquerade insiders, transparent consultation with those colleagues, and demonstrated respect for the official chain of command, that we were able to realize the commissions.”

Among the goals of the New Masks Now exhibition, Homann said, are to demonstrate that masquerade is a vibrant and innovative contemporary performance art and to amplify the voices of artists and diaspora communities by highlighting the careers and perspectives of the four featured masquerade artists.

two photos of David Sanou carving in his workshop

David Sanou at work in his studio, Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, 2022.

Homann has published numerous articles and editorials in the journals Res, African Arts, and Africa and is completing her first book. Her video footage of ephemeral masquerades is on display at the North Carolina Museum of Art, and she is working with the Mint Museum to relaunch their African collection. Her ten-week visit to Burkina Faso this spring is her tenth research trip to the country.

Top photo: Kimi mask, Nasso, Burkina Faso, 2015 [headpiece carved by David Sanou]. Right: Kimi mask, Bindougosso district, Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, 2022 [headpiece carved by David Sanou].