Thursday, December 4, 2008

Introduction to Masks

A mask is a whole or partial cover for the face. The functions of masks throughout the world are remarkably similar. Masks have two main purposes; to conceal the identity of the wearer, usually representing another person or creature, or used as a form of protection on many job sites and in sports.The use of masks dates back to man's earliest history. The origin of the mask is not known, but evidence of its presence has been found in primitive times, revealing the important role it has played in our lives. Early masks were probably made to represent animals because hunting played a large role in primitive societies.

People of many cultures-both recent and ancient-have made masks. Gold, stone, wood, bark, copper, bronze, tin, clay, feathers, and ivory are some of the materials used in mask making. Some masks are also decorated with colors, patterns, and textures. The resulting piece might look fierce, festive, or solemn. Some masks are one part of an elaborate costume.

Some times even experts can’t know the exact function of a particular mask because there are no records of its original use. What they can do is make suggestions and guesses regarding the intentions of the artist and the wearer. The meaning of the mask and the mask ceremony remain a mystery to the outsider. In the modern world, people might collect masks, and museums might display them, but originally the masks had a specific purpose. They were much more than decorative art objects.

The earliest known allusion to mask use is found in a Southern France cave. It is believed to have been painted around 20,000 BC. The art depicts a human masked in deer skin and antlers.Masks in traditional societies are not thought of as art objects. They are functioning sacred objects imbued with tremendous power and used for ancestor workshop, healing, funerals, social prestige and control, as well as initiation and fertility rites. Symbolic masks were devised to be worn during ceremonies of many ancient peoples. These masks portrayed gods, animals and spirits and were worn ceremonially for communicating with supernatural forces believed to rule the universe.

The classic drama of ancient Greece brought theatrical masks to the height of development. They were slightly larger than life size and made of canvas. They were often fitted at the mouth and made with a small megaphone for amplification of the actor's voice. Masks representing particular emotions or characters are worn in traditional Japanese no plays.There are many types of commonly known masks that are simple disguises. One such disguise is the domino, which is a plain cloth half mask and is worn on such occasions as a masquerade ball. Another is the handkerchief which can be tied over the nose and mouth and used as a makeshift protective mask. Western outlaws and bandits in the movies found this disguise quite acceptable.

Many modern criminals often wear ski masks to cover the entire head, as well as women's pantyhose as a mask. One of the most commonly recognized types of masks is the false face. It represents another person or creature and made usually of paper mache or plastic. It is most commonly worn on such occasions as Halloween and Marti Gras.

People have used masks for many other reasons as well. For example, actors from ancient Greece and Rome played some roles wearing masks. This was to facilitate the actor’s impersonation of the character. The Japanese and Chinese still use elaborate masks in some of their traditional theater. Although in Western society most actors do not use masks in theater anymore, a pair of masks, one comic and one tragic, have become a widely recognized symbol of drama.

People make masks for many other reasons, too. Tibetans hang brightly colored, fierce-looking masks to scare away demons. The Hopi Native American tribe in the south-western United States, make kachinas, masks representing helpful spirits. The ancient Egyptians made masks that covered their mummies.

It doesn't matter how much you know or don't know about masks, you can appreciate the appearance of a mask even if you know nothing about its meaning. But if you can learn how and why the mask was used, you can increase you appreciation of it and understand the cultural traditions of the people that made it.

Other popular related articles:

1. History and meaning of Buddha masks
2. Introduction to masks
3. African masks
4. Ritual masks of the world
5. Beginners Guide to Mask Collection

See more hand carved wood masks of Oraclemask

No comments: