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The Temporal Theatres of Sculpture and Drama: Wole Soyinka and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art

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To investigate the practices of evaluating and collecting African art is to expose the way in which modernism has dehistorized African art, globalizing it, universalizing it, rendering it timeless and thus 'modern.' In this way, modernism holds a mirror to itself, claiming for itself properties of truth and authenticity. The evolution of the New York art scene between 1957 and 1982 demonstrates a shift in museological praxis from anthropological to cultural theatre. In opposition to the neutralizing of history and the valorization of modernism, Wole Soyinka's tragic drama Death and the King's Horseman involves the spectator in a more interrogative instability. The synecdochal art object at the centre of the play, the egungun death mask, represents the extreme cultural negotiation of the imperialist stage. Unlike the passive, stoic nature of African sculpture, however, the ritual of the mask is aggressive and demanding, insisting as it does on its place in the terrifying vortex of post-colonial power politics.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Modern Languages, King's University College, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada


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