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Loïs Mailou Jones’ Moon Masque

Loïs Mailou Jones’ Moon Masque, 1971, is a stunning piece of vibrant color and striking design. Masklike profiles and designs drawn from Ethiopian textiles surround a papier-mâché replica of a heart-shaped white Kwele mask from Zaire.

Though stylized, the faces looking to the right and left, resemble actual individuals whose profiles are juxtaposed with the white Kwele mask’s eyes streaming tears. It has been speculated that the mask, signifying heritage and tradition, weeps for the situations of modern-day African peoples. (1)

Loïs Mailou Jones (1905–1998), Moon Masque, 1971; Oil and collage on canvas, 41 x 30 1/8 inches. Smithsonian American Art Museum, bequest of the artist.

Over a career spanning seventy years, Loïs Mailou Jones was a prolific artist, whose body of work reflects an expertise with a wide range of varied subjects, from New England, French, and Haitian landscapes to the sources and issues of African American culture.

She was also a noted educator at Howard University from 1930 to 1977, teaching design and watercolor courses, and was an important role model for other African American artists. Throughout her career, Jones championed the international artistic achievement of African American art. (2)

Jones’ “Moon Masque” and over 40 artworks by 34 African American artists are featured in African American Art in the 20th Century, a traveling exhibition organized by Smithsonian American Art Museum, on view at The Westmoreland now through January 17, 2021.

The text in this article includes excerpts from the African American Art in the 20th Century Exhibition Label, a traveling exhibition organized by Smithsonian American Art Museum that will be on view at The Westmoreland now through January 17, 2021.

1. Mecklenburg, Virginia, “Commentaries on the Artworks: Loïs Mailou Jones’” in Richard J. Powell et al, African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, (New York, NY: Smithsonian American Art Museum and Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc., 2012) 152-155.

2. Lynda Roscoe Hartigan African-American Art: 19th and 20th-Century Selections (brochure. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art)