Ancient secret societies of West Africa are normally hidden from outsiders. Yet here they are, costumed head to toe and dancing in broad daylight in photographs on view at Seattle's M.I.A. Gallery through October 25. In Pouni #1 (2010, from the series “Volta Noire,” taken in Burkina Faso), three figures–two wearing snake masks whose erect bodies double the height of their wearers–in shaggy pink raffia costumes crouch near a hamlet of mud buildings. The French photographer Jean-Claude Moschetti, who has photographed in Sierra Leone, Benin, and Burkina Faso, gained access to these secret animistic cults because he himself is an initiate, having been drawn to the belief system of the Egungun while working as a press photographer in Benin.
This ongoing series of works, begun in 2008 – seven of which fill the walls of this trim storefront gallery—stand as visual equivalents of the mindset of a people for whom a connection with the dead (their ancestors) is a regular part of life. Performing in transformative costumes of animal deities aides the transition between the supernatural and material world. Moschetti effectively translates these metaphysics into a spatial construction by fusing together skewed, similar, or altogether different views of the same scene in medium to large-sized diptychs and triptychs. The staging of one, two or at most three costumed figures isolated in purposely deserted locales adds to the surrealism of these images.