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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, with a side trip to Madagascar

I collected more images for M than for any other letter so far. Some of them, like the beautiful images of Music: Ancient Egyptian, will be filed away for later. For a bit of a change, I thought I'd put in my working sketch first, then break down what went into it.

The bear on a magic carpet and the large May Day engraving, some readers will recognize from last week's entry.

 The Mermaids near the center come from  a small selection I made, which also includes "the chicken of the sea":

As well as quite a few other merfolk:
Early American folk art from New York state (C. 1810)

There are two images from the folder MAYAS:
1930s National Geographic illustration

The second image is a figure who looks regal but benign, yet the handwritten caption indicates that this Chac Mool has a receptacle on its stomach "for offerings, usually fresh blood or pulsating hearts." He seems pretty blase about the whole thing, looking away as if he's not even interested in whether he's got a pulsating heart for breakfast or not. One wonders about the source of this material, but I'm giving it to you uncited, as it came across my table in the Picture Collection.

Before MAYAs, I looked through many images in MADAGASCAR: LIFE. It looks like one of the most beautiful places on earth, but somehow the composition of the landscapes I found didn't grab me as much as the raucous May Day image I chose as a base for the sketch above. I really wish I'd found a place for the gentleman below, however.

He is a musician who plays while dancers perform in the Malagasy ritual of Famadihana, or turning the dead, when ancestral bones are exhumed, feted, and wrapped in new shrouds during the Malagasy winter.

I claimed earlier not to be obsessed with death, but my forays in the archive prove otherwise...

In the sky with the Chac Mool are a few of the beautiful images I found in MASKS - AFRICAN. I've chosen a few more that didn't make it in to show you here.

Buale funerary mask, Ivory coast

Unlabeled mask found on the reverse of the image above

Kwele face mask, Gabon or Congo

Ivory, Benin

Left is Lega, Zaire, Right is a Pende mask also from Zaire (Now Democratic Republic of Congo)

Punu, Gabon, wood


And there are three masks included in the mock-up for the letter M that it's nice to get a fuller look at.
Dan-Ngere mask, 1974 (Dan or Gio people are Mande speakers from Liberia and Cote D'Ivoire)

Bamileke Elephant mask, Cameroon

Bateke mask, Congo (Brazzaville), publication 1960s

These masks are unbelievably beautiful, and their totemic quality made me want to place a few of them in the sky alongside the Chac Mool. I love that each photograph has what I would call its own aura, derived from the photographic techniques used (especially the lighting) and the time and setting in which its image was captured. Somehow vestiges of these auras remain even when the masks are extracted from the photograph. When I make more formal versions of these sketches, I hope to preserve those auras, the shadows and outlines that are remnants of lost times and ancestors.

Stay tuned next week for a tangent into PERSONALITIES: DIO, or maybe it will be NEWSTANDS and NIGERIA.... who knows.

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