John Goba

In John Goba’s life, there is a gross discrepancy between the original motivation of his artistic activities and the international reception of his work. In the early 1970s he had a revelation which caused him to make masks for the Odelay society, who organize a procession with masks about once a year through Freetown.[1] Jacques Soulillou elucidated in 1996 that the masquerades, which are organized by this union of young urban people with various ethnic origins, seek to strengthen group solidarity within a new social environment.[2] At the latest by the end of the 1970s, this new social environment was characterized by “extreme centralization of political power, the devastating impact of World Bank adjustment policies, and the ten-year rebel war” from 1991 until 2000.[3] The quills of porcupines, which Goba attaches to his masks, since his “discovery” as an artist also to figures, seem like a signal of self-protection and self-defense. Goba became internationally famous through the exhibition Africa Explores held in New York in 1991. It was the same year in which the civil war began in Sierra Leone. Personal information about Goba on the Internet, or in exhibition catalogs, gives no details about how the artist survived the civil war. In the meantime his sculptures fetch five-figure prices. But one searches in vain for recent reports, pictures, or interviews that provide information about the artist himself – this has now been the same for decades.

[2] See: Jacques Soulillou, „John Goba“, in: André Magnin, Jacques Souillou (eds.), Contemporary Art of Africa, Harry N. Abrams, New York / Thames and Hudson, London, 1996, pp. 84–87.
[3] Ibrahim Abdullah, “Space, Culture, and Agency in Contemporary Freetown: The Making and Remaking of a Postcolonial City”, in: Under Siege: Four African Cities – Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos (Documenta11_Platform4), Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2003, p. 201.