CHALLENGING THE DEAD HAND OF THE MUSEUM DISPLAY: The Case of Contemporary Guro (Côte d'Ivoire) Masquerades



This paper explores some of the methodological and theoretical challenges raised by the presentation of masks from the Guro region of the Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in Persona, a 2009 exhibition at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. Along the Ivory Coast, masquerades are popular, but they also take place during important rituals such as campaigns against witchcraft, funeral ceremonies, and propitiatory cult events. Masks are used in dance performances, and these can only be related in a museum context through texts, photographs, music, and videos. Yet in spite of such efforts to communicate the dynamism of living cultures, exhibitions often become a kind of cenotaph, as if these cultures were dead. Museums thus tend to have a “deadening effect” on living cultures, placing them in a timeless and false past. How can we deal with this aspect of the displays, especially when we know that today's masquerades are profoundly influenced by modernity and urban culture?