about Phyllis Galembo

Fascinated by masquerading rituals in Africa and the Caribbean, the photographer Phyllis Galembo, now a professor of fine art at Albany University in New York, has spent more than 20 years capturing the masquerade’s myriad forms, following festivals and carnivals across Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso, and combining art and anthropology.

She collected Halloween costumes for over 15 years before starting to work on traditional religions in Nigeria, Haiti and Brazil:

“I went back to Nigeria and after having photographed priests and priestesses there I focused on masquerade dancers in Benin, Voodoun and Jacmel Carnival in Haiti and a lot of other colourful, energetic places.

Masquerade by Phyllis Galembo 8

Masquerade by Phyllis Galembo 9

Gelede Masquerade, Agonli-Houegbo Village, Benin

Ekpo, Calabar, Nigeria

I do focus on the artistic and aesthetic side first, but I’m also very interested in the story behind the colourful costumes. Colour is a large part of the costume and the ritual. Elements like colour, light and the right background strengthen the photo and the narrative.

It’s only staged in that I have to get the local’s permission to pose first. Then I have my portable studio, which makes it possible to bring the colours to light this much. So I only use my materials for technical reasons, it’s not staged: I set the stage and that’s it.

Egungun, Adandokpodji Village, Benin

Gwarama Masquerade, Yegueresso Village, Burkina Faso

Masquerade by Phyllis Galembo


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