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Examines the economic and spatial importance of performance arts in West Africa through a close analysis of the masquerade culture of Calabar, the capital city of Nigeria's Cross River State.
Driving into urban Calabar, one is struck by two imposing, monumental rectangular columns, operating not unlike ancient triumphal arches, framing the entrance into Nigeria's capital city of the Cross River State. Relief carvings of Calabar's renowned masking characters adorn the monument. The icons, dramatically captured in choreographic poses, freezing the maskers in time, enshrine masquerade as the city's heritage and past identity. Far from being merely "traditional" and relegated to an earlier time, the Calabar-based masquerades explored in this book demonstrate a contemporary and global context indicative of the changing patterns of city life.
While the topic of cultural change is not necessarily new to African art history and cultural studies, few scholars or writers have attempted to understand why African arts so readily change. This book, the first full-length monograph addressing contemporary art in Calabar, explains the fluidity and thriving nature of masquerade by analyzing the ways in which masking is steeped in economic transaction and how street performances have become more public and spatially calculated. By unraveling the urban layers of masquerade arts and their performances, this book shows how so-called traditional culture gains new roles or currencies within a contemporary, city-based context.