Bureau of MaskS Inventory
in collaboration with Joanna Malinowska
417 African masks and archival photographs from the period 1960 to 1989, dimensions variable
Bureau of Masks Inventory is a collaborative work between Joanna Malinowska and C.T. Jasper and consists of 417 African masks and archival photographs from the period of 1960 to 1989. The work is a form of research project dedicated to tracing the presence of African masks and other African artifacts in the former Polish People’s Republic during the 1960s to late 1980s – a period in time when Poland was a part of the Soviet Bloc and isolated its citizens from contact with the rest of the world.
The artists have managed to compile—through various second hand sources and through word-of-mouth—a collection of over 400 masks and similar artifacts that made its way to Poland during the decades prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Though Poland’s citizens were isolated from much contact with the rest of the world at this time, limited trade agreements allowed small numbers of Polish workers to sign contracts with marine merchant employers operating routes between Europe and Africa. This can explain how some African artifacts found their way into Poland despite the Soviet Bloc’s attempts at isolation. Jasper and Malinowska recall growing up in one of the harbor cities on the Baltic shore in Poland in the 1980s where possessing such artifacts was a symbol of higher social status. At the same time and in stark contrast, a bar of soap or a roll of toilet tissue were considered luxury items.
Along with the masks, the artists have compiled a photographic archive of images documenting the presence of African artifacts displayed as home décor during this period. The project also charts the owners’ ventures through various countries where these items were purchased, collected, and exchanged for goods from the Soviet Bloc, such as watches or soldering irons. The work in all its dimensions is a quasi-historical, quasi-ethnographic research project focusing on the Eastern Bloc’s blind spot to colonial history.