Lead Story West Edition

UNITY, LOVE ON PARADE: Festival of Masks draws colorful group to South L.A.

By Kristina Dixon

Contributing Writer

LEIMERT PARK — The theme was “Asuwada,” a Yoruba principle describing an energetic phenomenon that arises when a community unites with a collective positive intention in pursuit of a common goal for the greater good.

It was the eighth annual Day of the Ancestors Festival of the Masks sponsored by LA Commons June 24 in the Leimert Park Village.

Women, men and children filled the Leimert Park Art Walk along Degnan Boulevard to unite and celebrate the arts and culture of African ancestry with masks and dance. The festival included masks created by South Los Angeles students ranging from elementary to college. Some participants started creating and preparing their masks last December.

The festival started with a hour-long procession which included people dancing and chanting with their faces covered in masks waving to those who watched the celebration. Once the procession ended, the festival began. The street was crowded with people wearing traditional African masks and garments, with colorful tones and patterns.

The event included a hospitality tent, food vendors, small business owners and pop-up shops. Everyone was busy making masks and serving traditional African food and treats. There also was live music, pony rides for children, free health workshops and a traditional drum circle.

The festival was produced in partnership with the Leimert Park Art Walk as an effort to promote the vibrancy, culture, legacy and economy of Leimert Park.

With his mask on, a young man carries a banner that stresses unity, one of the main principles stressed by LA Commons, sponsor of the Festival of the Masks.
(Photo by Kristina Dixon)

LA Commons’ goal for the Festival of Masks is to have a visible public art projects that tells dynamic neighborhood stories.

Karen Mack, executive director of LA Commons, said “Our work is about using art and the future as a way to bring people together and the festival is probably one of our most powerful manifestations of that. It is a program that not only brings together young people, but this project is inter-generational, with long-time community members such as Odis Johnson-Kehinde, who guides and educates the youth behind the importance and ancestral meaning of the masks.

“The artistry is an extraordinary investment of time, energy and love,” Mack added. “People are investing themselves in this collaborative community of expression. It strengths the bond within the neighborhood.”

They hope to build community by validating the importance of local narratives, enhancing the sense of belonging felt by a broad range of stakeholders, and encouraging stronger ties between the people and places of Los Angeles.