Loïs Mailou Jones, born Boston, MA 1905-died Washington, DC 1998 Search this
oil on linen
25 1/2 x 21 1/4 in. (64.7 x 54.0 cm)
Five overlapping masks from different African tribes convey a mysterious spiritual dimension summoned by ritual dance. Jones came from a comfortable Boston background, and she did not experience the racial discrimination that was common before the civil rights years until she lived in New York and Washington. When the Corcoran Gallery gave her an award in 1941, she sent a white friend to claim it, rather than risk having it rescinded.
Jones spent many summers in France, where she enjoyed the same artistic and intellectual freedom as her peers. When her Paris teachers questioned the African themes in her paintings, Jones answered readily: if masters like Matisse and Picasso could use them, she said, "don't you think I should?" Jones taught at Howard University for many years thereafter, encouraging her students to travel to Africa to understand its art. The multiple masks and vivid red fetish figure suggest the artist's effort to draw strength and protection from her cultural heritage in the face of prejudice.
Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006