From the beginning, this publication has had a singular focus on Africa and dedicated the first issues to documenting the history of photography on the African Continent and its journey to the present day (see past issues for the serialized historical journey). In our chronicles we became painfully aware that our beloved mother Africa is evolving fast and is quickly losing the majority of her ethnicity and authenticity. The original evidence of African cultures and civilizations is fading with residual evidence being encased in books, museums and old peoples memories.
Fortuitously, at the end of 2015, on our way to Arusha Tanzania to visit with an original Black Panther in exile, Pete O’neal, we literally stumbled on a hidden jewel; the Cultural Heritage Centre. The Centre is a treasure trove of all things African, past and present! With the kind permission of its owner and creator, Saifudin Khanbhai, Teddy Mitchener of House of Fotography captured endearing images of sublime art and artifacts produced by our African peoples long gone. As Africans, we owe a debt of gratitude to people like Saifudin who realize the incalculable worth of African historical works of art and have dedicated their life’s work to preserving our heritage, even when we ourselves are so quick to move on and embrace all things new, and mostly foreign.
As publishers of this magazine, we feel very deeply about cherishing our heritage as our past is what has forged our present and will mold our future. It is to this end we are beginning another series celebrating our African heritage and capturing it through the photographer’s lens. Coincidentally, in our Photographers Showcase, we feature photographers who have dedicated themselves to capturing disappearing Africa, peoples and places.
It is our hope that as we continue with our publications celebrating the art of photography on the Continent and our African peoples, our readers will awaken and take hold of the legacy of the Black Man, proudly claiming and preserving His heritage. In the words of the great Bob Marley, “If you know your history, then you would know where you are coming from, then you wouldn’t have to ask me, who the heck do I think I am.”
Our first installment showcases a small selection of masks, mostly of West African origin. One of the main characteristics of our culture was the use of masks in rituals and ceremonies. It is believed that the earliest masks were used before the Paleolithic era (Stone Age that began about 2 to 2.5 million years ago). Masks represented spirits of animals or ancestors, mythological heroes, moral values or a form of honoring of a person in a symbolic way. They were made from wood, pottery, textiles, copper and bronze. Details could be made from animal teeth, hair, bones and horns as well as feathers, seashells and even straw and egg shells. The maker of the masks had a high rank in the village because it was believed that he had contact with the spirit world and making masks was a craft passed down in the family. The mask wearer was a sort of medium that allowed for dialogue between the community and the spirits (usually those of the dead or nature-related spirits). Masked dances were an integral part of most traditional African ceremonies related to weddings, funerals and initiation rites.
In capturing these masks, the photographer birthed a creative concept in celebration of masks as an ode to the passing away that we are witnessing. The concept is an interpretation that shows half of a proud regal African face in a state of decay or deterioration and is presented to showcase the cultural erosion that we are witnessing among the so-called millennials and within the public discourse.
Masks: Saifudin Khanbhai, Cultural Heritage Centre
Photography: Teddy Mitchener