Masks masks masks – Where do I begin? A mask is an artifact normally worn on the face, typically for protection, concealment, performance, or amusement.
Masks have been around as long as man has expressed himself through performance and art…
TRADITIONAL AFRICAN MASKS
Ritual and ceremonial masks are an essential feature of the traditional culture and art of the peoples of Subsahara and West Africa. While the specific implications associated to ritual masks widely vary in different cultures, some traits are common to most African cultures: e.g., masks usually have a spiritual and religious meaning and they are used in ritual dances and social and religious events, and a special status is attributed to the artists that create masks and to those that wear them in ceremonies. In most cases, mask-making is an art that is passed on from father to son, along with the knowledge of the symbolic meanings conveyed by such masks.
Masks are one of the elements of African art that have most evidently influenced European and Western art in general; in the 20th century, artistic movements such as cubism, fauvism and expressionism have often taken inspiration from the vast and diverse heritage of African masks. Influences of this heritage can also be found in other traditions such as South and Central American masked Carnival parades.
In most traditional African cultures, the person who wears a ritual mask conceptually loses his or her human identity and turns into the spirit represented by the mask itself. This transformation of the mask wearer into a spirit usually relies on other practices, such as specific types of music and dance, or ritual costumes that contribute to conceal the mask-wearer’s human identity. The mask wearer thus becomes a sort of medium that allows for a dialogue between the community and the spirits (usually those of the dead or nature-related spirits). Masked dances are a part of most traditional African ceremonies related to weddings, funerals, initiation rites, and so on. Some of the most complex rituals that have been studied by scholars are found in Nigerian cultures such as those of the Yobura and Edo peoples, that bear some resemblances to the Western notion of theater since every mask has a specific spirit.
Korean masks have a long tradition with use in a variety of contexts. They were used in war, on both soldiers and their horses; ceremonially, for burial rites in jade and bronze and for shamanistic ceremonies to drive away evil spirits; to remember the faces of great historical figures in death masks; and in the arts, particularly in ritual dances, courtly, and theatrical plays. The present uses are as miniature masks for tourist souvenirs, or on cell-phones where they hang as good-luck talismans.
The often horrifying or grotesque masks were used in shamanistic practices for their ability to evoke fear, and humor, in ceremonial rites. The masks were often made of alder wood, with several coats of lacquer to give the masks gloss, and waterproof them for wearing. They were usually also painted, and often had hinges for mouth movement.
Typically one sees the following some of which are designated as national cultural properties.The Hahoe, Sandae and Talchum are all traditional Korean mask dramas of ritual and religious significance.
Hahoe Byeolsin gut is a kind of exorcist play while performers wear mask such as yangbantal(nobleman), bunetal, seonbital(scholar), gaksital (bride), chorangital, halmital, jujital (head monk), jungital (monk), baekjeongtal(butcher), and imaetal.
The mask play of Hahoe Byeolsin Exorcism itself was classified as important intangible cultural asset #69 by the South Korean government on November 17, 1980. Hahoe and Byeolsin masks themselves were also labelled South Korean National Treasure#121 at the same time. The Hahoe mask dance is one of the folk dramas of Pungcheon Hahoe Village in Andong city, and dates from the Goryoe Dynasty.
A death mask is a wax or plaster caste made of a person’s face following death. Death masks may be mementos of the dead, or be used for creation of portraits. It is sometimes possible to identify portraits that have been painted from death masks, because of the characteristic slight distortions of the features caused by the weight of the plaster during the making of the mold. In other cultures a death mask may be a clay or another artifact placed on the face of the deceased before burial rites. The best known of these are the masks used by ancient Egyptians as part of the mummification process, such as Tutankhamon’s mask.
In the seventeenth century in some European countries, it was common for death masks to be used as part of the effigy of the deceased, displayed at state funerals. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they were also used to permanently record the features of unknown corpses for purposes of identification. This function was later replaced by photography.
When taken from a living subject, such a cast is called a life mask. Proponents of phrenology used both death masks and life masks for pseudoscientific purposes.
Masks of deceased persons are part of traditions in many countries. The most important process of the funeral ceremony in ancient Egypt was the mummification of the body, which, after prayers and consecration, was put into a sarcophagus enameled and decorated with gold and gems. A special element of the rite was a sculpted mask, put on the face of the deceased. This mask was believed to strengthen the spirit of the mummy and guard the soul from evil spirits on its way to the afterworld. The best known mask is that of Tutankhamun made of gold and gems, the mask conveys the highly stylized features of the ancient ruler. Such masks were not, however, made from casts of the features; rather, the mummification process itself preserved the features of the deceased.
In 1876 the archaeologist Heinrich Schleimman discovered in Mycanae six graves, which he was confident belonged to kings and ancient Greek heroes – Agamemnon, Cassandra, Evrimdon and their associates. To his surprise, the skulls were covered with gold masks. It is now thought by some unlikely that the masks actually belonged to Agamemnon and other heroes of the Homeric Epics.
The lifelike character of Roman portrait sculptures has been attributed to the earlier Roman use of wax to preserve the features of deceased family members. The wax masks were subsequently reproduced in more durable stone.
In the late Middle Ages, a shift took place from sculpted masks to true death masks, made of wax or plaster. These masks were not interred with the deceased. Instead, they were used in funeral ceremonies and were later kept in libraries, museums and universities. Death masks were taken not only of deceased royalty and nobility (Henry VIII, Sforza), but also of eminent persons like poets, philosophers, composers, such as John Keats, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Haydn, Dante Alighieri and Voltaire. As in ancient Rome, death masks were often subsequently used in making marble sculpture portraits, busts or engravings of the deceased.