Wheaton Conversations: Visualizing Ancestral Connections with Richard Robinson Jr. & Ira L. Bond

Visualizing Ancestral Connections
with Ira L. Bond and Richard Robinson, Jr.

Watch the March 21, 2024 recording above

This Wheaton Conversation episode is an insightful presentation and discussion about African masks and masquerades. Ira L. Bond and Richard Robinson, Jr. not only make masks but perform with them for ceremonies and public events. They discuss the deep connections between masks, rituals, music, and dance and their meanings and relevance in traditional African cultures. The artistry and aesthetics of the African masks, as well as their ritual and social roles, are be interpreted in the context of the African worldview and belief systems. As Ira Bond explains, “I want to share the legacy of our ancestors that are part of my identity as African American. This way, we also provide the cultural continuity of traditions that have been translated from West Africa to America.”

Closed captioning is provided.
This event is part of “Wheaton Conversations,”
a virtual series highlighting a diverse community of Artists!
To see the full schedule of conversations, Click Here

Wheaton Conversations is generously presented by PNC Arts Alive! and the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass.

Image of Ira L. Bond sitting on a red stool holding a piece of artwork in each hand while smiling at the camera. The artwork on the left side is a red mask with a orange, beige, and blue patterned cloth wrapped around the bottom of it. At the top of the mask is a small sculpture of a person. The mask has a white smile with black eyes, eyebrows, a vertical strip of black on the forehead and two horizontal stripes on the cheeks. The artwork on the right side is similar to the one on the left, but is a yellow mask with a blue, black, and white patterned cloth wrapped around it.

Ira L. Bond (Ibramim Diabate) is a performer, dancer, percussionist, educator, researcher, community activist, masquerade specialist, musician, and cultural enrichment specialist for 30 years. 

Ira’s cultural, artistic, and educational mission is to utilize arts as a means to develop positive relationships and to reintroduce African cultural values to the African Diaspora in our area. In his work as an educator, Ira emphasizes the development of a socialization process (Rite of Passage) and the creativity associated with traditional arts that can transform people to a higher realization of their life’s purpose. 

Ira has earned his B.A. in Communications with a minor in African American studies from Mansfield University. Earning a M.Ed. in Multicultural Education from Eastern University, PA, his thesis was “Teaching Content through the Arts.” His interest in traditional cultures led him to Antioch University to earn an honorary certificate in Malian Arts and Culture with concentrations in French/Bamana intensive, traditional Malian aesthetic, and a traditional apprenticeship with the National Ballet of Mali. 

Ira is a lead drummer for Messiah Dance Works of Philadelphia and the Afro-Cuban dance company Kulu Mele. Ira is also the founder and director of the Malidelphia Performing Arts ensemble that serves to create a bridge between African immigrant and African-American communities through traditional song, dance, music, and masquerade. African masquerade is Ira’s specialty. Since he was initiated into its traditions in Mali and the Ivory Coast, Ira created over 20 traditional African masquerades – masks and garments. Ira uses drums, masks, and rituals to teach both children and adults how to pay respects to the ancestors while reflecting on our own mortality and imprint on our world. 

Image of Richard Robinson outside in front of a green leafy background from the side. Richard is standing behind a log held up by three tube-shaped stands and is holding a drum stick in each hand above the log.

Richard Robinson of Woodbury, NJ, originally began his professional career in the communications industry and has a BA in Communications from Penn State University, but his 35-year passion for music and cultural traditions led him to pursue employment in the arts. As a result, he has been working in the field for more than 15 years, including 5 years at the Arts Council of Princeton and West Windsor Arts Council. In addition to his experience in arts management, Richard is also an accomplished teaching artist who focuses on cultural enrichment, providing an enthusiastic and fresh perspective to the field of education.

As an educator and musician, Richard’s work is an outgrowth of an African and Caribbean folk art movement in New Jersey and Philadelphia. Richard had many teachers in African drumming and masquerade, including Kofi Gymerah, Clarence Anderson, Van Williams and Andre Forest who all studied in West Africa before coming back to teach in Philadelphia and New Jersey area.

Richard is a master drummer who has played with the Acarajé Drums and other bands and is an active member of the Malidelphia Performing Arts and the African Masquerade Society. He created many masks, which involves making a mask, costume, and a drum, as well as singing songs that accompany each mask. As Richard explains, “The masks represent sacred spirits. We connect with our ancestors through the mask, dress, drum, and song. It is all part of our African masquerade.” Richard has worked extensively with children throughout the tri-state area in schools and community organizations, where he passes on the traditional values and aesthetics of African and Caribbean Creole cultures.