Antebellum Tribal Afrikanface Masks the Inception By Gracie Berry

Meaning and Thangs

These masked wallhangings are part of my ongoing collection, Antebellum Tribal Afrikanace Masks with a focus on the interrelationship of natural textile fabrics and Black Afrikans born in the Antebellum South and how that all ties into the vastness of the Afrikan diaspora throughout the world. Antebellum Tribal Afrikanface Masks tell so many stories of an Afrikan past, present and future generations in the American South whose cultural fabric and framework carried over literally from the continent and have held together the world around us because our stories are alive in our blood, our features, our ceremonies, our dialects, rituals, spiritual practices, traditions, our love.

Before I share about how the project came about, I can’t begin without thanking my little Big brother and ancestor David Berry who blessed me the idea through dream visitation. Identity, belonging, and heritage have long been recurrent themes for me especially when it comes to my art and spiritual practice. I didn’t always feel Afrikan or at least that I had the “right” to claim and Afrikan existence since I wasn’t born there. But I always knew that I was deeply connected to the continent. Thankfully my undergraduate experience and the teachings of Kwame Ture gave me the unshakable knowing of who I am. That I don’t have to accept a hyphenated version of myself. I am West Afrikan born in America. I don’t need to ask permission from anyone because my parents Afrikan DNA gives me that. I believe that all of my art is a direct reflection of my cultural lineage from the cosmos to the continent. 

The Dream

My brother David and I were sitting at a large, round, wooden table, in a sunny room with all the windows and doors open, the breeze was gentle like feather, house music vibrated the window panes, the walls, sipping libations as he showed me how to stay open to the faces revealing themselves through the fabric, that literally formed before my very eyes. We went on to talk heavy like we always do when he visits my dreams. We debate about what traditional Afrikan anything means or doesn’t mean these days and how devastating colonialism was in eradicating Black people, places and things. We talked about blood memory. We shared stories about how our families blood memory informs the deepest parts of us, no matter how far we feel removed from it. Blood memory is long established, connecting us to our art, languages, songs, spirituality, teachings etc., therefore can reveal itself through any generation.  Ase-O little Big bro!

The Masks

Each mask possess their own energy. I received more spiritual downloads and visits than I’d like to admit. But with guidance from the ancestral realm I was able to conjure each one up through and bring them into this life. Some of the faces feel familiar like we’ve met before. You’ll notice a variety fabric, colors, beads, shells etc., on each one. I was intentional about the fabric and other objects I used. For instance, I used burlap, cotton, and sheep’s wool because they were all considered “negro cloth” or “poor peoples fabric” in history. I call the full lip and centering of Afrikan feature in my work, Mookies Mouth. I wanted to glorify Afrikan rich features, so I named the process after one of my brothers to heal painful adolescent memories of racism toward him and I during our time in foster care.

Tradition in the Making

I want to be clear that my reference to the masks being traditional comes from my birth right. A framework that under my ancestors literal and spiritual tutelage allows me to create traditional art inherently. An Antebellum Tribal members perspective of masks made from the same fabric we tended that without us wouldn’t have grown the worlds economy and put the USA on the map. This is not to replace, erase or divide what we know as traditional on the continent, but to conquer the idea that identity is fluid and constantly expanding in the Afrikan diaspora. We are a community, vast and wide. To rid ourselves of the idea that Black Afrikan people born outside of the continent are somehow perceived as less valuable in our lived experiences, credible or spiritual, reeks of colonialism. My life’s work is to add to the many layers of an Afrikan existence that all people of Afrikan descent have an inherent right to. Antebellum Tribal Afrikanface Masks tell the stories of many generations whose cultural fabric and framework carried over literally from the continent to many other lands by brute force, still thriving and holding together the world around us. Keep vibrating higher!

To learn more a little more about enslaved Afrikan cloth history see references below:

https://www.mesdajournal.org/2012/slave-cloth-clothing-slaves-craftsmanship-commerce-industry/

“Slave Cloth”

http://www.inesdoujak.net/negro-cloth/

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