Olaniyi Rasheed Akindiya, or AKIRASH, participated in Artist INC Austin a few years ago and received an Artistic Innovations grant this year for Saso L’Oju Egun/Behind the Mask, a multimedia project that he describes as a “journey.” It involves the creation of ten original masquerade costumes from traditional materials, incorporating symbols and patterns from around the world. “I wanted to take the audience on a journey to West Africa, where this all started,” said the artist. The Bahia people of Brazil and the Yoruba people of Nigeria both celebrate the Egungun Festival, a traditional religious ritual, where masqueraders dance in elaborate costumes to loud drumbeats and song. AKIRASH worked with twelve dancers and three musicians to stage Saso L’Oju Egun/Behind the Mask for audiences at the Fusebox Festival in Austin in April 2018.
Artistic Innovations grants support the creation of new, innovative works by artists in M-AAA’s region. With this support, Akirash was able to enrich Saso L’Oju Egun/Behind the Mask with community events. The project kicked off with free mask-making workshops in an area of East Austin with a historically high population of people of color. The workshops created enthusiasm for the project and built momentum leading into the performance and exhibition. Akirash researched rituals and associated costumes from around the world, including: Ghana (Adinkran), Nigeria (Uli, Arewa), South Africa (Ndebele), Cameroon (Bamuleke), Australia (Aboriginal), New Zealand (Mauri), and New Mexico (Pueblo). Symbols and patterns from all these cultures were applied to the masquerade costumes for the event. During the exhibition, Akirash used QR codes for each costume. Viewers could scan the code and learn more about the symbolism, history, and stories behind each costume. “This interaction kept many in the gallery beyond the time they would normally stay, created debate and discussion, and gave the audience a deeper understanding of the influences behind the work.”
At the performance, audience members engaged with participating artists, dancing with them and sharing incorporated objects and food. Currently, Saso L’Oju Egun/Behind the Mask is scheduled to exhibit and be performed at Lawndale Art Center in Houston December 2018 through February 2019, with further dates in discussion at other venues.
Says Akirash, “The whole process was a joy. From researching, acquiring materials and creating the works to being able to collaborate with dancers to perform in the costumes would not have been possible without the support of MAAA.”