Paulette Young

PhD Anthropology, Columbia University, expert on African textiles

Egungun Masquerade Traditions: Modern Artists Respond

This presentation explores the connection between Egungun masquerade and contemporary art in the African Diaspora.  I will highlight the works of three celebrated artists who infuse their artwork with African textiles and design elements.  African American conceptual artist Nick Cave creates magnificent colorful recycled sculptural assemblages called “Soundsuits”, wearable works of art that generate sound when performed.   Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE stages elaborately designed vignettes that reinterpret 18th and 19th century cultural history through sculptural installations defined by their costumed life size figures that incorporate colorful European made African print fabric.   Ade Adekola, a Nigerian-born and Lagos based conceptual photographer and architect, uses digital reconstructions to capture the contemporary significance of Egungun as dress and display.  I will also consider other offshoots of African masquerades in the Diaspora.  “Pitchy Patchy”, one of the original costumed characters of Jamaican street carnival known as “Jonkonnu”, has layered strips of brightly colored textiles, similar to the structure of Egungun fabric sculptures.  Jonkonnu in Nassau, the Bahamas where performers dressed in shredded sheets of colored paper costumes perform to drumming and singing.  This talk contributes to advancing the historic record to reflect the full scope and diversity of the African influence in the visual arts.


Paulette Young, Ph.D. is a cultural anthropologist and an independent scholar in the visual arts and artistic cultural practices of Africa and the African Diaspora.  Her research centers on the historical and contemporary roles of global textiles as an expressive artistic and cultural form.  Dr. Young has taught at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University in the City of New York and she has lectured for various institutions in Africa, Asia, and Europe, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum for African Art, New York, and Parson’s School of Design, Paris.  She is based in New York City where she is director of the Young Robertson Gallery, New York.