By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Marc Felix knows how to make an appearance. Dressed in all green, save for a white scarf, Felix searches for harmony in the world.
A member of the Musical Instrument Museum’s board of directors, Felix spent 30 years in Congo, and the North Phoenix destination is offering a glimpse into the lively masquerade traditions of Central Africa in “Congo Masks and Music: Masterpieces from Central Africa.”
Presented by U.S. Bank, the exhibit was curated by Manuel Jordán, Ph.D., MIM’s deputy director and chief curator. It features more than 150 rare masks, instruments and costumes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It also includes 12 mannequins in full, authentic outfits worn in ceremonies.
Felix spent time in Africa simply because “that is my job.”
“It wasn’t always gratifying,” he says. “Sometimes I was very disappointed because things didn’t turn out the way I wished, but I have had a lot of pleasure.
“It’s the same thing in America or wherever. If I would have stayed in Belgium, it’s not always a bouquet of roses. Some situations were painful—like the war in Congo, all the massacres in Congo. That’s painful. But then you go back, and you get hope again. That’s why I dress in green.”
Felix says the exhibit represents “the best” of his collection. The masquerades educate, entertain, demonstrate power, promote fertility and connect humans with the spirit world.
“Congo is huge,” he adds. “There are about 300 ethnic units or cultural units, as they are called. Manuel and I, together, we chose the ones most representative.
“Within each group, we picked the best possible examples. If we did not have them, we got them from the Royal Museum for Central Africa and a collection in Hong Kong. We went to different sources to try to get the best.”
As for the masks, they represent powerful supernatural beings who come to life in human, animal or hybridized form in masquerades. Through music and dance, they express different peoples’ worldviews, histories, religious beliefs and morals.
Constructed out of materials including wood, feathers, beads, fiber and metal, the intricate masks on display in the exhibition showcase remarkable artistry and craftsmanship representative of dozens of Central African cultural groups.
The collection also features an array of musical instruments, including drums, bells, rattles, whistles, thumb pianos, xylophones and harps.
“I hope when guests walk into the exhibition, they feel like they are stepping into the performance arena. Being in the presence of these full-body masqueraders, they’ll get a sense of how impressive this art form is,” Jordán says.
U.S. Bank Community Affairs Manager Art Perez says his company is pleased to present the exhibition.
“We try to be involved in our communities whenever we can,” he says. “We have what we call our pillars of engagement and support: work, home and play. The MIM fits into the play pillar.
“We’re big supporters of the MIM. We really enjoy our partnership with them. We like to give folks in the Phoenix area and visitors alike this kind of exposure to culture. The MIM is important to us.”
“Congo Masks and Music: Masterpieces from Central Africa,” Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix, 480.478.6000, mim.org, various times through September 13, $10 for special exhibition only, $7 when purchased with general museum admission, $4 for those 4 to 19, free for children ages 3 and younger.