Seattle art exhibit puts spotlight on race, identity

Kara Jakobs tries to take a photo of herself with a mask mounted on a mirror as part of the the show “Disguise: Masks & Global African Art” at the Seattle Art Museum on Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Seattle. Race, identity and the masks people wear are the themes explored in the new exhibit of contemporary, multimedia art, which showcases masks from the museum’s collection alongside contemporary art, much of it created just for this show by African artists and those of African descent. The show will be traveling to Los Angeles and New York after Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Kara Jakobs tries to take a photo of herself with a mask mounted on a mirror as part of the the show “Disguise: Masks & Global African Art” at the Seattle Art Museum on Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Seattle. Race, identity and the masks people wear are the themes explored in the new exhibit of contemporary, multimedia art, which showcases masks from the museum’s collection alongside contemporary art, much of it created just for this show by African artists and those of African descent. The show will be traveling to Los Angeles and New York after Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE (AP) — Race, identity and the masks people wear are the themes explored in a new exhibit of contemporary, multimedia art at the Seattle Art Museum.

The themes feel especially relevant with the recent opening of the show “Disguise: Masks & Global African Art” coming one day after the deadly shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, and a week after the leader of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington, was accused of lying about her race.

But curator Erika Dayla Massaquoi believes this is the kind of exhibit that would have had people talking about race and identity even without the news.

The show isn’t going to hit people over the head with the topics of race and identity, but Massaquoi believes, “People will intuitively get it.” She worked with the museum’s curator of African and Oceanic art, Pamela McClusky, to create the new exhibit.

It showcases masks from the museum’s collection alongside contemporary art, much of it created just for this show by African artists and those of African descent. The show will be traveling to Los Angeles and New York after Seattle.

The exhibit has a heavy emphasis on digital, multimedia and video art. Visitors walk right through some of the installations, giving it an interactive feel. The space is so filled with sights and sounds that some may find it a little overwhelming, while others will enjoy the way the different forms of art interact.

The first big gallery is a mix of styles and genres: Digital screens show electronically modernized versions of the ancient masks from the museum’s collection, flanked by a herd of fake deer wearing masks, which are in turn surrounded by videos, photographs and other three-dimensional art.

Massaquoi calls that the juxtaposition of genres a blurring and says it forces people to shift their focus back and forth and have their frames of reference challenged.

Some of the most interesting work in the show involve performance pieces, either in person or recorded on video.

Music permeates the space. At the end, visitors are invited to create their own soundtrack for the show. Before they get on the elevator to exit the museum, they also can virtually “try on” some masks by taking pictures in mirrors with masks attached.

The show is not intended as a fun-filled children’s museum experience, although there’s plenty here to spark imaginations of all ages.

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If You Go…

DISGUISE: MASKS & GLOBAL AFRICAN ART: Through Sept. 7 at Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., Seattle, http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/ or 206-654-3100. Open daily except Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Adults, $19.50, teens and students, $12.50, children 12 and under, free. Exhibit is scheduled to be at the Fowler Museum at UCLA from Oct. 18, 2015 to March 13, 2016, and the Brooklyn Museum from April 29 to Sept. 18, 2016.

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