The Shameless Ugliness of Gongoli (2022) in collaboration with The Art Institute of Chicago

The Shameless Ugliness of Gongoli

Filmed and photographed (2011–16) by Samuel Mark Anderson
Edited by Art Institute of Chicago

Performed by (in order of appearance):
Mustapha Tucker, Ndomegeh Cultural Association, Bombohun Village
Jusu “Mandela” Massaquoi, Warrior Cultural and Mystical Power Dance Troupe (led by King Hassan Jalloh)
Siloh, Mammy Yoko Cultural Dance Troupe and Moonlight Disco (led by Baggie Korvoma)
Mohamed Jabaty, unnamed troupe (led by Mohamed “Labawai” Koroma)
Unidentified Gongoli in Freetown, Kenema, Kailahun, Blama, Tissor, and elsewhere in Sierra Leone

Audiovisual installation, sound; 7 min. 30 sec.

In Mende communities and throughout Sierra Leone, performances by masked spirits representing gendered initiation associations have long expressed ideals of secrecy, discipline, male power, and female beauty. Yet alongside them, other figures subvert and parody these models by indulging in ugliness and shamelessness. Featured here is one of the most famous: Gongoli. Particularly beloved by young people, this character can emerge in village festivals or urban rallies, on his own or as a member of touring variety shows. His ragged clothes and his clumsy handling of his oversized and deformed head often expose the identity of the performer underneath. Gongoli provokes laughter and derision but also compassion and reflection on the masks we all must wear in public.

Commissioned for The Language of Beauty in African Arts, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2022.