Ron Singer ~ Juju, To Me

In the corner of our living room to the left of the north-facing windows hangs a mask that I bought in Abidjan* in nineteen sixty-eight. Serene, unadorned, and carved from dark brown wood, it portrays an idealized female face. As I recall, the expert carver/craftsman belonged to the Baule (bah/oo/lay) ethnic group. Although the piece was made for the tourist trade, and I bought it for a pittance, its tranquil beauty has cast its magic for fifty years. It was, you might say, a good investment.

Since the mask hangs right above our also-old stereo receiver, we’ve threaded a thin wire through the horn-shaped hair-do at the top, down to a frame-like piece of plastic that sits on the receiver. Somehow, black wire and brown mask harmonize with the cracks in the dirty white wall behind them. I know no more about how the carving projects its magical tranquility than how the wire improves our radio reception (severely challenged by tall new buildings). Mask, wire, wire, mask, both juju to me.

A further magic radiates from this corner where, like two pages of an open book, the mask faces a drawing. The same size as the mask, about 7”x17”, the drawing is abstract and sculptural. Soft red, gray, and yellow shapes, two crescents and a triangle, are juxtaposed against faded white layers of paper. The composition also includes gray boxes, rhomboids and rectangles, which frame the crescents and triangle. The lines in the drawing mimic those of the mask: its oval face, straight mouth, and empty eye slits. This catty-cornered juju was wrought by my wife, herself a painter, who cleverly matched drawing to mask.

* Abidjan is the capital of Cote d’Ivoire, in West Africa.

Ekphrastic writing by Ron Singer ( has previously appeared, e.g., in Art & Artists, ducts, elimae, Gravel, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Sleet, Snow Monkey, Tree House and Word Riot. His 11th & 12th books are are scheduled for publication by Unsolicited Press. The Promised End (2019) is a story collection; Gravy (2020), a mixture of genres. An earlier book, Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with Pro-Democracy Leaders (Africa World Press/Red Sea Press, 2015) is available in libraries across the world.

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