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Exhibit examines beauty and power behind the mask

Jacquinn Williams | 3/9/2011, 6:55 a.m.
Folk singer Tracy Chapman wears a Pende mask in “Pende Tracy” for the reinterpretation of her sepia toned album cover for “Crossroads.” Jacquinn Williams

“[It] turned out that the body in that image didn’t need the color to be explosive,” Vendryes continued. “Again, it was her music and the look on her face that made the Pende “sickness” mask a dead ringer.  It is danced in time of need and mourning and Tracy sings of those things in a very powerful way.”

Grace Jones, the strikingly gorgeous and sexy model/singer is painted with an intricately adorned Igbo mask. Her lithe body has one leg stretched behind her with her face looking forward.

“The most fascinating masks for me are those which represent dances where the men make a great effort to move like the female spirit they are inhabiting,” Vendryes said. “Of the group I have in the show, the Igbo Spirit Maiden mask that I chose for Grace Jones is particularly dynamic for a woman like Grace who has a reputation for presenting herself in a very sexual and androgynous manner. The Igbo groups also tend to make very elaborate mask as well and I enjoy the work involved in painting those intricate forms.”

Professor Vendryes received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Amherst College, a master’s degree in art history from Tulane University, and a second master’s degree and Ph.D. in art history from Princeton University.

She taught at Princeton University and Amherst College before entering the faculty at York College and the Graduate Center of City University of New York where, as associate professor of art history, she received tenure in 2006. Among several honors, Vendryes held a 2003 American Association of University Women Fellowship and is a former Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Her “African Divas Art” exhibition will be on display until the end of the month.