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Naked Big Fish (detail) 

Kalabari Masquerade as a theme in Performance Gallery 

Performance Gallery was developed at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery in response to the excellent collections which relate to performance. The new gallery opened in 2002, and Kalabari masquerade is one of the eight installations of people in performance from around the world.

The display:

Performance Gallery presents Naked Big Fish on open display at an entrance to the gallery. Just larger than life and crowned with a large Sawfish mask, the figure towers over the viewer, brandishing swords in both hands. Behind the sculpture is a large image showing an Ijo sawfish masker in performance.

The texts:

Performance is about an experience at a particular time. That experience is very different if you are the performer or the spectator.
In writing texts for the gallery we tried to present these very different perspectives for the different performances. We tried where possible to work the direct quotes of performers or spectators or makers into these texts. 

Consider Kalabari Masquerade as Spectator, as Performer, as Maker.

 Naked Big Fish (detail)



Kalabari masquerade - SPECTATOR

Kalabari people live surrounded by the water of the Niger Delta. We believe in water spirits.

Long ago Kalabari women saw water spirits playing at the shore. They described them to their men, who made Masquerade. In a cycle lasting twenty years, spirits come to perform for you and they tell you stories about their world.

'I am a viewer. A woman is a viewer. Women don't expose the maskers. Even if it is your son. We know but we don't expose them.' (Kalabari masquerade spectator).



Kalabari masquerade -  PERFORMER

The young men bring their costumes and headdresses and transform themselves into gods.

The men are sewn into their costumes. In front they strap on pregnant bellies, with huge phalluses behind. On their heads the carvings have conversations with God.

'People can never know it is you. Even my wife can never know that I am playing the masquerade. When you put it on, the spirit will descend on you and you don't feel anything. No tiredness, no heat, nothing.' Anonymous (Kalabari masker).

Naked Big Fish (detail) 

 Sokari Douglas Camp © Christian de Souza  


Kalabari masquerade -  MAKER

'I wanted people to know what a mask looked like when it was fully dressed and alive ... not as it is often introduced in museums, without a body.

'In 1996 Nigerians in the Delta were killed without trial. ... I wanted to show the gods had left us and we were just left with men pretending to be gods.

'Naked Big Fish came about because I wanted to undress the masquerader and show him for what he was, a man in a costume.'
Sokari Douglas Camp (artist)



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