Masks: The Art of Expression (Paperback)

by John Mack

Format: Paperback 224 pages

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Masks exert a powerful fascination. A masked person, whether an actor or a participant in a rite or religious ceremony, is a person transformed - in many senses. Masking raises questions of identity and possession, reality and artifice, the natural and the supernatural. Masking is a near-universal phenomenon, but the uses and meaning of masks and masquerade has varied greatly between cultures. This book studies eight principal areas: Africa, Oceania, Latin America, the Northwest coast of America, Japan, Classical Greece and Rome, Egypt and Europe. The disparate masking traditions of these cultures are discussed, but the main emphasis of the book is always on the masks themselves. Many of the masks are objects of beauty, but decoration is seldom their major function. The golden funerary masks of Ancient Egypt - that of Tutankhamun being the most well-known - were intended to equip the dead with divine power and attributes. Aztec codices frequently depict gods, or their priestly impersonators, wearing face paint or masks which serve to identify the divine being. Disguise or concealment is not necessarily the purpose of masks either. In classical antiquity, masks worn in the drama actually assisted the actors' portrayals by displaying particular characteristics which the audience could interpret. In ritual and religious use, as today in Africa or Oceania, mask-wearers may be thought to be possessed by, and therefore to become, a spirit or god. It is not a performance: the mask is the spirit. Masks are often associated with rites of passage - birth, death and initiation - in which complex issues of transformation and identity are raised. Often made of wood, masks may also be constructed from precious metals, cloth, bark, basketry, papier mache, leaves, feathers and other perishable materials. Many are intended to survive permanently; others are made only for temporary use and, indeed, may be considered too dangerous to keep. It is this great variety and richness, both of masks and of masking traditions, which is brought out in this survey and in the accompanying 155 colour photographs.

Book details

Published
08/07/1996

Publisher
British Museum Press

ISBN
9780714125305


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