Un/Masking Collections: Virtual Exhibits for Decolonizing Gender, Race, and “the Masks” of the Ethnographic Museum

A subject catalogued as "Guro mask," Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen.

One example of mask catalogued as "Guro mask," Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen 

Don't discard your COVID masks yet! They have a story to tell -- about rich, complex, colonial histories of social relation, art, performance, public health, and global power. Come find out how... 

Project description

This project involves the following work:

  • Study historical and contemporary social, ritual, and artistic masking practices in West Africa and the diaspora – and for this phase of the project, in Côte d'Ivoire – specifically as they relate to public health, social convention and performance, colonial and global interference, and local resistance 
  • Study historical and contemporary social, ritual, and artistic masking practices in West Africa and the diaspora – and for this phase of the project, in Côte d'Ivoire – specifically as they relate to public health, social convention and performance, colonial and global interference, and local resistance 
  • Analyze and discuss the practices of building public-facing exhibits, that engage or dismantle the vestiges of colonial practices and discourses (in English and in French, as two colonial languages that inform the work), across the arts, humanities, and social sciences
  • Learn how all such masking practices intersect with local and global experiences of gender, race, and power; how activists, artists, curators, and scholars work to change and, in some cases, decolonize such practices
  • Consult West African collections of masks online and in person – for this phase, under the guidance of the deputy director and senior curator of the Buffalo Museum of Science – to gain insight on institutional collecting practices and related decolonial practices, and the possible and actual implications of dismantling (“unmasking”) Global North museum collections 

Project outcome


  •  Summarize and critique discourses and practices around masks, as regards: West African and diaspora social, ritual, artistic, and public health masking; and Global North ethnographic museum collecting of masks
  • Articulate implications of un/engendering (“un/masking”) Global North museum practices, as well as of West African masking practices, as a broadly interdisciplinary endeavor to attend to “public health” (oppressive social gendering, gender gaps in disease control, resistance via public art)
  • Collaborate with ethnographic museums – for this project, the Buffalo Museum of Science – to propose methods on how to begin changing the practices of exhibiting West African masks
  • Enrich teamwork skills through discussion and collaboration with student peers, faculty researchers, deputy directors and curators of ethnographic museums
  • Create a comprehensive plan to more fully engage audiences in the retelling (“unmasking”) of masking practices of West Africa and of Global North ethnographic museums

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment Less than a semester
Start time Spring May/June
In-person, remote, or hybrid? Hybrid 
Level of collaboration Small group project (2-3 students)
Benefits Research experience
Who is eligible Students who have taken FR 211, FR 212, FR 213 

Core partners

Project mentor

Christian Flaugh

Associate Professor

Romance Languages & Literatures

Phone: (716) 645-0879

Email: cflaugh@buffalo.edu

Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase.