In Greek Theater, a Black Mask Plays an Important Role

Image of the Week: Whether expressing tragedy or comedy,  the slave mask reflects the malleable nature of the black experience in the ancient world.

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The exaggerated yet sympathetically rendered features of the black mask reinforce the impression of an African performer. Both pathos and humor could be exploited on the stage without compromising the essential humanity of the character. The slave mask therefore reflects the malleable nature of the actual black experience in the ancient Greek world. On or off the stage, black people could indeed speak for themselves, transcending dramatic convention to participate more equitably in the larger arena of freedom and opportunity.

The Image of the Black in Western Art Archive resides at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute, part of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. The founding director of the Hutchins Center is Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is also The Root’s editor-in-chief. The archive and Harvard University Press collaborated to create The Image of the Black in Western Art book series, eight volumes of which were edited by Gates and David Bindman and published by Harvard University Press. Text for each Image of the Week is written by Sheldon Cheek.

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