Grebo Mask and Evocative Objects

Grebo Mask, from the University of Florida’s Digital Collections, still view 23UF’s Digital Library Center has digitized this Grebo Mask. I’m not a mask expert of any sort, but the description tells that the Grebo Mask is possibly Kru (Liberia and Ivory Coast), in the shape of a bird with four eyes, representing a seer (Wood) circa 1960.

The Grebo Mask alone is a beautiful artifact, but what’s more interesting is that the Digital Library Center is working on a standard method for putting these images together in a looping clip, where users can click to stop the clip or to zoom in on the object. A number of museum websites offer spinning objects or objects that can be zoomed in on, but I haven’t found any examples as good as our full 360-rotation and depth of zooming. As museums and libraries move to digitize more materials, the best methods not only make materials accessible in the same ways as they would have been in non-digital format, but in ways that improve their usability through digitization.

Masks and other object-artifacts are often presented in museums encased in glass, so that only parts of the objects are viewable and the detail of the view is hindered by lighting, glass or ropes defining the space, and eyesight. Digitizing objects in ways that respect the materiality of objects allows users to see and study the objects in new ways while working within the traditional constraints of not handling, and thus not damaging the objects.

Digitization approaches that respect the materiality of object dovetails into digital preservation initiatives and into more recent studies on the importance of objects-as-objects, like Sherry Turkle’s edited collection Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, which studies the importance of objects for inspiration and thought patterns (it’s much like Donald Norman’s work on how designs affect the way users think about and use objects in Things that Make Us Smart and The Design of Everyday Things). I’m excited to see where this project takes us and to see the many problems and solutions we find in presenting digital versions of objects.