Mask from the Congo

Las Vegas, N.M. – New Mexico Highlands presents an art exhibition, Masks and Artifacts from the Congo, in the university’s Ray Drew Gallery with an artist opening reception May 30 from 4 – 6 p.m.

The exhibition also features masks created by art students from Robertson High School.

“The 11 wooden masks in the Highlands Congo collection are mysterious and powerful, making the viewer wonder who made each one, who wore it and why, and how long ago they were made,” said Karlene Martínez, the Ray Drew gallery curator.

Anthropologist Roger Jessen traveled to the Congo in the 1970s and then acquired the Congo art pieces in 1977 from a European gallery. In 2016, Jessen donated his Congo art collection to Highlands, which includes the masks and artifacts such as knives, swords and baskets.

The exhibition provides the first opportunity for the public to view the Congo pieces.

The Rey Drew Gallery is in the university’s Donnelly library at 802 National Ave. The exhibition begins May 24 and continues through June 27.

“These are the first African masks in the Highlands Foundation’s art collection with many from the Lega people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said Renee Buchanan, the Highlands Foundation art curator and archivist. “The geometric designs on some of the masks suggest a Muslim influence. We believe that some of the masks were perhaps used in coming of age ceremonies.”

Buchanan said the masks and artifacts from the Congo expand the diversity of the foundation’s art collection.

“These masks and artifacts are strong teaching tools for all ages,” Buchanan said.

Martínez, a former Robertson High School art teacher, worked with Magali Rutschman, the current Robertson High School teacher, on the exhibit.

Martínez said the exhibition is part of a new initiative for the Highlands Fine Arts Department to collaborate more with local schools.

“The Robertson students researched information about the Congo art and culture to create their own masks,” Martínez said. “They were encouraged to either recreate an existing Congo mask or create their own design using characteristics of Congo masks such as closed eyes symbolizing tranquility or bulging foreheads symbolizing wisdom.”

The Robertson students used clay, cardboard and mixed media for their masks.

“Magali did an incredible job of getting three of her art classes to contribute to this show. I’m pleased with the energy and creativity expressed in the Robertson students’ work,” Martínez said.

The hours for Ray Drew Gallery are 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday and 1 – 5 p.m. Sunday.