Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Out of Africa @ HOFP

West African woodcarvings and statues will be on show at HOFP Gallery from October 1 through Oct. 2. The exhibited artifacts were used in actual healing and other rituals in Africa and are believed to have special powers. The opening reception will provide a guest speaker on West African culture, traditional African drum music by Borenya, and African cuisine.

Darren Gilley spent 13 years in the Republic of Guinea in West Africa where he studied the region’s music and customs. As an anthropologist and a student of music, Gilley was especially interested in West African music.  Living in a former French colony, Gilley began to play drums with the local drum players and slowly assimilated into their society.

“Living in Guinea I found that music was a very important social part of their life,” he says. “As I drummed my whole life, using this instrument was a great way for me to submerge into the society.”

Just as music is such an important part of Guinean culture, so are the wood artifacts, masks and statues. At the “Out of Africa” exhibition, the visitor will see numerous statues and artifacts that served an important part in West African culture and society. The Toma (mask) for instance, is one of the first large pieces that the visitors will discover. This Toma mask was obtained by a private collector in 1993 from Conakry, Republic of Guinea. Originally the mask was the healer’s mask in the Toma tribe. It is about 90 years old and was used by the village chief who was a great healer. The role of the mask was to assist with healing and was considered a mediator between the living world and the supernatural world of the dead.

The largest piece at the exhibition is the Banda mask. This mask is a mixture of human and animal. The long horizontal headdress is composed of the face of a human being and the jaw of a crocodile, whose angular teeth are visible along the side of the mask. The top of the headdress features the horns of an antelope, the body of a serpent, and the tail of a chameleon. The human face is characterized by Baga scarification marks as well as a woman’s elaborately braided coiffure. Originally the Banda mask was considered a very dangerous being, who protected humans in times of hardship or danger.

Another important part of the exhibition is the large Baga Bird. This statue is approximately 85 years old. Its size and detail make it extremely rare. Unlike the headdresses, the four pegs at the top of the head are inserted into individual receptacles and sealed, inferring that the receptacles were used to store medicines or potions that would ‘empower’ the statue. In the smaller versions, the pegs and the head are carved as a solid piece.

Gilley came back to the United States to share the uniqueness of Guinean culture and music. He also believes that music can help at-risk youth. For this cause, Gilley’s band, Borenya, is raising funds to travel the U.S., performing for young people at at-risk elementary schools.

To learn more about the show, please visit

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