Recently, I saw in front of the Whitney Museum a parked truck full of African masks from the tourist trade. They were for the ritual and about the ritual, created by the tourist industry, and the seller was very cognizant of the Cubists referencing African art. . . . I thought that I would choose the images that for me were very pure statements and transpose them into my feeling about their beauty.
—Lynda Benglis (New York City, November 2010)
Since the late 1960s, Lynda Benglis has gained international recognition for her adventurous pursuit of media as a sculptor, her provocative artistic stands, and her vocal feminism. Fascinated by the beauty of malleable and transformative material such as latex, bronze, wax, and plastics and glass, her oeuvre is one defined by sensuous and amorphous forms. For Benglis, the act of artistic creation addresses the changing and organic nature of shapes, and imbues the material with a life of its own. When exhibited, these forms often merge physically with the walls, floors, and ceilings and literally take over the space through their sheer expressive force.
The performative dimension of masking traditions from Mexico, Africa, and the West led her to collect African masks and sculptures during the 1960s. Later, she found that ritual aspects of these traditions resonated with her own creative process. In 2010, Lynda Benglis was awarded a residency at the Tacoma Glass Museum where she undertook a new series of works in the unexpected medium of glass, combining her long-lasting engagement with African masks with the type of experimentation with transformative media that has defined her career.
These explorations make reference to a celebrated mask genre from Equatorial Africa that is formally distinctive for its minimal definition of the eyes and vertical nose ridge that bisects the length of the elongated visage. The wood surfaces of such masks are covered with a white chalk to suggest ancestral apparitions destined to inspire fear, regulate village life, and protect individuals against mystical aggression. It seems natural that Benglis would be drawn to such ethereally defined masks as the point of departure for her own hollowed, translucent compositions. Her works quote the overall form of a Fang ngil mask in the medium of glass so that it presents a stimulating interplay between what is visible or hidden through passages of translucency and opacity. Anacoco's shadowy black shell is traversed by a meandering thread that blurs facial features. By contrast, the inner content of unshaped copper is visibly embedded within golden-yellow Tullulah. Finally, Ville Platt's thinly blown green glass is clouded by floating blue shadows and polished circular markings.