The Newsletter 72 Autumn 2015

Africa and the unmasking of Asia

Lloyd G. Adu Amoah

Masking has a long and rich history on the continents of Africa and Asia. In Africa the notable masking tradition of the Yorubas of West Africa comes to mind. In Asia the dexterity and speed of China’s face mask artists have intrigued and entertained theatre lovers for centuries. Merged, intertwined and entangled with ontology, epistemology and even meta-physics, masking has played cultural, philosophical and moral roles in these ancient societies. To be sure, in both societies and civilizations, to mask is temporally and temporarily transmutative; the masked take on another identity that only unmasking can reverse. As Africa and Asia interact far more intensely today I will argue that a Kierkegaardian unmasking moment, of an existential quality, has been reached: “Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask?” I will show that ‘a midnight hour’ has struck for contemporary Africa-Asia relations and why for Africa an unmasked Asia that reveals an authentic self (to borrow Kierkegaard’s word) is critical for Africa.