I don’t need much excuse to go to the British Museum, so when a little serendipity led me there via a sculpture in Peckham I was all smiles.
The sculpture is situated at 81 Hanover Square in Peckham, one that has caught my eye on so many occasions while passing on the bus in the past three years, but one I knew nothing about. It always looked to me like a figure wearing a plague doctor’s mask or an elaborate Elizabethan dress, but what struck me most was how the hard metal sculpture so clearly evoked soft fabric and the delicateness of feathers.
A little research told me that this piece is by Nigerian born British sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp and is called Sword Fish Masquerade, recalling traditional performances of the Kalabari region of the Niger Delta celebrating the water spirits. It’s interesting to see such a good scuplture adorning the entrance to a block of flats in South London when so many sculptures in more prominent places are so forgetable. And it’s also interesting seeing a sculpture evoking water spirits in Peckham, a place I always associate with the fresh fish shops and market stalls in the area, and of course its large Nigerian population.
So on to the British Museum – it turns out that when compiling his list for the Evening Standard’s “A World City in 20 Objects” the British Museum’s Director Neil MacGregor chose a piece by Sokari Douglas Camp as his No.1 object. A choice I wholeheartedly approve of. In his discussion he explores her British/Nigerian heritage and how traditions primarily within the male domain have been reinterpreted by a female artist, pointing out how this fits with the art of masquerade being all about reinvention and transformation.
It’s always a pleasure to read a piece by Neil MacGregor, he manages to sum things up so well, making me pretty jealous to be honest, but hopefully in an inspiring way that will lead me to think further about what I’m looking at and how it can be interpreted. This sculpture may always make me think of a plague doctor’s mask, but I’ll also see masquerade performances, fish and Nigeria, helping its delicate metalic fabric to come alive in its South London home.