Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Creating the Sowei: Repairing and Interpreting Sowei Masks in Global Assemblages
by Otto, Kristin, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2020, 442; 28027290
Abstract (Summary)

This project examines the interpretive processes of repairing sowei masks within the diverse assemblages of use, collection, commoditization, exchange, and exhibition in which they circulate globally. I combine collections-based, close analysis of material with qualitative research with people that repair located in the key transitional spaces that characterize the circulation of sowei masks through performative contexts in West Africa into Western markets, collections and institutions. As the quintessential material icons of women in Africa in museums and scholarship, sowei masks have moved globally through a diverse array of spaces in which they have been variously (re)interpreted through discourse. As sowei masks circulated, people also materially altered the masks through processes of repair. I argue repair constitutes a material method of interpreting the sowei mask in new spaces and for new audiences, mirroring the discursive interpretation that also takes place. Therefore, repair is one element of the continuous process of creating sowei masks that extends the object biography far beyond initial carving.

In Chapter 1, I outline the theoretical and methodological approaches to material culture and repair that shaped my analysis. Chapter 2 provides a scholarly background on the sowei mask, the cultural contexts in which they perform, and the forces prompting their global distribution in collections. In Chapter 3, I turn to repair in the performative contexts of West Africa that continues the interpretive process of creating the spiritual manifestation. Chapter 4 focuses on how repair factored into the political exchanges of colonial/imperial influence in West Africa that made sowei masks globally iconic of the region. I shift to the transactional spaces of the recent global market for sowei masks in Chapter 5 by centering on the repair work of art restorers that facilitates the creation of authenticity and value. Chapter 6 centers on repair within conservation departments in Western museums, where conservators repair sowei masks according to the ethical guidelines of their professional fields through the lenses of institutional missions. The concluding Chapter 7 offers a discussion of the implications of repairing sowei masks globally for discussions of rights to repair, object biographies, and repair itself as a creative process.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Jackson, Jason Baird, Buggenhagen, Beth
Commitee: Shukla, Pravina, Royce, Anya
School: Indiana University
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 82/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Folklore, African Studies
Keywords: Art, Mask, Material culture, Museum anthropology, Repair, West Africa
Publication Number: 28027290
ISBN: 9798662585638
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