Exhibition picture The story of the dance mask

The story of the dance mask

The dancer and choreographer Birgit Åkesson is here shown a unique collection of African dance masks.

Birgit Åkesson was a leading innovator of dance in the 19th century. She was passionate about seeking to find the true essence and origin of dancing, a passion that brought her to Africa.

Birgit Åkesson (1908-2001) was one of the great dance artists of the 19th century, a modernist pioneer who in the 1960's and 1970's made many trips to Africa where she felt the origin of dancing could best be studied. When Birgit Åkesson passed away, her collection of dance masks were donated to the Museum of Ethnography. The collection includes more than a dozen masks from Guinea, Congo, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania.

The African dance masks connect their wearers with the creative forces of the universe. When a mask is danced around the village, it is not for the purpose of giving a theatrical performance but for making contact with the spiritual world. During a mask dance, forces that would otherwise not be visible emerge: The buffalo's strength, the chameleon's transformation ability and the antelope's power to bestow prosperity. It can also be the spirit of an ancestor, should such a mask be danced around the village. According to Birgit Åkesson, the dancing seen in Europe had lost touch with its origin. It got lost in a culture of court, pointe and ballroom dancing. However, in Africa, dancing is a way to explore the world, to live and deal with cosmic and existential dramas.

In conjunction with the exhibition is published a book with the same title as the exhibition. Whilst being a tribute to Birgit Åkesson, the book also examines her approach to dancing as a source of culture in Africa. Co-authors include Stig Claesson (Slas), Horace Engdahl and Bengt Häger.