Ceremonies in Circles

Banner for the "Ceremonies in Circles" exhibit. The background is comprised of yellow, red, and green thick "c"-shaped half circles that connect with each other at the end of the half. The shapes mirror each other as they make a vertical curving pattern in six rows throughout the banner. The colors of the shapes follow a green, yellow, and red pattern. Each shape has a small blue circle in the center gap. The banner also has large white text in all capital letters that read "Ceremonies in Circles". The center "O" in ceremonies is filled in with white o that it looks like a circle. The word "IN" is turned on it's side so that it is facing "Ceremonies". The "Cs" in "Circles" look like the the shapes from the background and the gaps of the "R" are also filled in. Under this title is smaller white text that reads "April 4 through December 29, 2024". On the right side of the text is a piece featured in the exhibit resting on top of a small pile of straw.

Ceremonies in Circles

April 4 through December 29, 2024
In the Down Jersey Folklife Center

Interpreting traditional West African masks, garments, woodcarvings, and ceremonial objects used in special rituals and community celebrations. 

Image of two masks resting on a white backdrop. The mask on the left is black with red lips and a round red mask around the the eyes and nose. Around the eyes is smaller beige round mask. There is more beige outlining the bottom of the red mask. There is also a matching vertical stripe that starts at the top of the entire black mask and extends through the middle of the forehead to the beige part of the red mask stopping right before the red mask ends around the nose. Around the top of the black mask is a long cylindrical black head piece with six small white cowrie shells along the front side of it. A white cloth with fringe and three dark blue stripes towards the top and middle of it rests around the entire mask. The mask on the right side of the image is smaller than the one on the left. This mask is black with light brown highlights and speckles throughout the base. This mask has white teeth with a gap in the center and a thin, rectangular red mask around the eyes. This mask also has a cylindrical head piece draped around the top of it. This piece is the same color as the rest of the base of the mask, but is covered in three rows of small white cowrie shells lined up next to one another alongside the top and front side of the head piece. Behind this mask is another cloth. This cloth has a pattern of gray and beige stripes.
Image of three pieces from the Ceremonies in Circles exhibit on a white background. There are two tall drums that are wide at the ends and thin in the middles. The drum on the left has a light brown base with light brown stings extended vertically from the top of the drum to the bottom. A white strand is tied around the middle. The drum on the right is slightly shorter than the one on the left with a light brown strand tied around the middle and a reddish base color. In front of them is a smaller drum about half the size of the taller ones. This drum has a light beige base color and white vertical strands. Resting on top of the drum is the curved portion of a long, thin light beige piece with green patterned fabric wrapped around the end.

Visit the Folklife Center to explore traditional masks, garments, and objects related to special rituals and community celebrations of West African cultures. Most featured artworks were created by artists in our region, with others acquired from private collections. The exhibit provides insights into the West African traditions of masquerade as well as artistic interpretations of old wisdom and new meanings.

Highlighted in the exhibit are artworks by the renowned mask makers Ira L. Bond, Richard Robinson Jr., Boubacar Diabete, Moussa Diabete, Arthur Driscoll, and Melvin Deal. Their masks and costumes have been in continuous use by the U.S.-based African Masquerade Society and the Malidelphia Ensemble, whose members reside primarily in Philadelphia and New Jersey. The works of the African and African-American mask makers in our area visualize the West African masquerade through symbolism, aesthetics, and artistry to translate important messages to the community.

The messages of the West African masquerade are ritual and cultural expressions of universal values connecting people to their ancestors and cultural heritage, interpreting concerns for the protection of land and love for one another. Each mask tells a story, told in a ritual of festive context. This story involves not only the mask and the costume but also the music, dance, and ritual behaviors. Discover rich stories symbolized through West African masks and costumes such as Bambara Mali N’Tomo and Tyi Wara masks, Dan Deangle and Guro Zaouli Ivory Coast masks, Dogon Mali Kanaga, Tingetange and Spirit masks, and Mende Sande Siera Leone masks among others.

Image of a piece featured in the "Ceremonies in Circles" exhibit. The piece is a dark gray color and is shaped like a round cone with the wider part at the bottom. The bottom middle of the jug features a face and ears sculpted onto it. The sides of the bottom portion of the piece has five horizontal sculpted rows that stop at the middle of the ears. The top portion of the piece features three different sections of carved details. The sections on the left and right are more square shaped and feature diagonal lines. The section in the middle is much less wide than the other two and has a line down the middle with small diagonal line coming off it it until the pointed end of the section is reached. Each side has a small knob like piece with small lines carved into it. At the very top of the piece is a small, round, and diamond-shaped piece.

Special displays feature artworks by the internationally recognized master drummer, dancer, and sculptor Maxwell Kofi Donkor. Images of his native Ghana are interpreted in his relief sculptures and ceramics to depict rituals and celebrations of the Asante people. His artworks bring viewers another perspective of West African traditions, worldviews, and way of life.

All exhibited artworks aim to provide deep experiences with unique visualizations of universal human values, joys, fears, and hopes. They are meant to inspire a meaningful dialogue about the significance of cultural heritage in the multicultural landscape of our region. History, cultures, and everyday life are all part of the exhibit’s quest—a quest for understanding and possibly appreciating who “we” are and who “they” are —a quest for individual relevancy in a sea of conflicting social values. In other words, it is a quest for understanding humanity through creativity, spirituality, and art.

The Down Jersey Folklife Center is a co-sponsored project of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and WheatonArts, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Ceremonies in Circles exhibit includes partnership support from Malidelphia Performing Arts, Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas, and the New Jersey Historical Commission.

Image of six logos on a white background arranged in two rows. The logo on the top left has black text that reads "Down Jersey Folklife Center" with red text underneath that reads "WheatonArts". The logo on the top right features a circle inside of a slightly thicker circle. Each side of the circles has a small gap cut out. The left gap has black text that reads "EST." and the right has black text that reads "1966". The top half of the inside of the smaller circle has black text that reads "New Jersey State" and the bottom half has more next that reads "Council on the Arts". Both follow the curve of the circle. There is also a red triangular logo in the middle of the logo with three thick red lines going across it that curve at the end. The logo on the bottom left is rectangular. The right side of the rectangle is green, the middle is yellow, and the right is red. In the center is a black silhouette. The bottom of the silhouette is circular with a curved in top. There are four circular cutouts on the side that intersect in the middle. Each cutout has a small black swirl. Above this is a cone shaped piece where the sides are cut out in a net-like fashion. At the top of the silhouette in the wide part of the cone-shaped section is a black silhouette of the Liberty Bell. Bellow the bell, over the top of the rest of the silhouette is white text with a black outline that reads "Malidelphia" in all capital letters. Next to this logo is a square shaped logo with black text that reads "National Endowment" with "National" above "Endowment". Below "Endowment" is smaller black text that reads "for the". This text is turned on it's side. To the right of "for the" is large, bold black text that reads "Arts". Underneath are two small horizontal lines. The line on top is red and the bottom line is blue. There is a small gap in between the two lines and they each extend from "for" to half way through "Arts". Extending from the "t" to the "s" of "Arts" is small black text that reads "arts.gov". Next to this logo is a logo that has a magenta horizontal rectangle at the bottom. This rectangle has white text that reads "LatinoAmericanas" in all capital letters. The "L" and the "S" extend further than the boundaries of the rectangle. A half circle sits above this rectangle in the center. This circle is comprised of a circle and a smaller one inside of it. Both are magenta colored. In between the two circles is purple text that reads "Raice Culturales". This text also follows the curve of the circles. Inside of the smaller circle is a purple silhouette of the bottom portion of a guitar and a person with their hands in the air on the right side of it. The final logo on the bottom right has large red script that reads "Historical". Above "Historical" is small black text that reads "New Jersey" positioned so that it is in between the "H" and the "l". Below "Historical" is more black text that reads "Commission".