A focus of Herve Youmbi’s recent work has been the production of striking hybrid masks that combine stylistic features of diverse regions and peoples. Made in collaboration with specialist artisans from West Cameroon, these masks are exhibited in contemporary art environments prior to being“activated” in a ritual context, danced by initiates of the Ku’ngang Society. Some masks have traveled back and forth between the ritual universe and the contemporary art scene, acquiring a different status with each move. Layers of meaning accumulate and challenge the Western labels applied to African art, which differentiate between “contemporary” art and “authentic,” “traditional” African art.
As we view ourselves in these mirrored, screen-printed renditions of masks that Youmbi has activated in multiple contexts, reflecting back at us also are the classifications formed through economic, social, and political forces, all intimately tied to capitalism and colonialism but still powerfully at work today, in the postcolonial aftermath.