BEHIND THE MASKS - JASON ZIMMERMAN

In this gallery we will discover the artist and the meanings of different masks in history. Throughout time, masks have a played an important role in a variety of cultures. We will explore these roles and a brief description of how they were created. Some were for entertainment or religious practices, while others were to provide artistic meaning. 

This is one of twelve of the oldest masks that have ever been discovered. It originates from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic era and it is over 9,000 years old. The twelve pieces were discovered in Israel. Given the age of this mask, it was most likely used in some type of religious event. A few examples of uses would be for ancestor cults, healing practices, or ways to see into the future through supernatural means. The geometric shapes used to create the eyeholes and teeth resemble a human face remarkably well considering it was created so long ago.
The Kwakwaka’wakw tribe used the Dzunukwa Mask during the middle to late 19th century. Adults of the tribe would tell stories to the children of a half human half animal creature that would steal children that strayed from home or were mischievous. It is assumed that adults would wear this mask to frighten the children by showing them what the creature looks like. The idea of telling stories like this to children is still utilized in our society today. The textures on this piece really stand out from the use of human hair and bear hide. Those touches make the mask more lifelike and believable, especially to in the eyes of the small children it was made to scare. Also, the small shape of the eyeholes presents it as menacing as it’s hiding the actual eyes of the user. The hard edges of the cheekbones and brow add to its aggressive features.
The people of the Torres Strait Island, which is part of Australia, wore this unnamed mask. It is made from wood, human hair, and resin. It is unclear the specific use of this mask. One possible use would be for religious rituals because the Islander people were adamant about sustaining their relationship with the supernatural world. Another reason would be to taunt and bait other clans into confrontations. The texture of the human hair gives the mask a more realistic look, while the pattern of holes around the mouth and above the eyes could possibly represent a mans hair stubble.
The mask pictured is one of eighteen masks that symbolize disease demons in the Sri Lankan culture. Specialists are still using these demon masks in healing rituals to this day. The process includes a sick person observing a masked performance by an individual wearing the mask that is associated with the demon that is ailing them. A mix of this theatrical style of healing and herbal medicine usually cures the individual. The eyes bulge out while the eyebrows and red lines under each eye frame them. I believe this emphasis was placed on the eyes because this particular masks was most likely used for the sickness of delirious fever, thus explaining the “crazy eye” look of the mask. The red color around and in the eyes is used to communicate that this mask represents the feeling of being deliriously sick.
This Beshimi mask was created around the 18th century in Japanese during the Edo period. The medium came from Japanese Cypress wood. This particular mask was used in variety of different ways. This included, rituals, dancing, and religious ceremonies. Its role in all of these events were to play the part of a evil spirit. The simplistic shape of this piece suggests it was used mainly for a shrine or agricultural festival. The carving was beautifully designed while making sure the symmetry of the face is almost an exact reflection of each side, with the left eyebrow the only part that seems to be a slightly different. The eyes are shaped in a way to invoke fear in its viewers. Finally, as you can see the mouth is closed, which is the reason it is a Beshimi mask.
This is a comedic mask made from terracotta created sometime between the 3rd and 2nd century. Most likely it was used in stage play called New Comedy in Greek culture. In this style of stage play, the focus was on comical situations that happened in every day life. This could be compared to today's television sitcom. What really stands out, compared to other masks, is the texture of the hair on this piece. The sculptor took his time to give the hair a realistic look by creating a pattern of grooves through the hairline to add to the realism. This style of mask is described as New Style by academics.
According to Japanese mythology, this Yakan mask was made for the legend of “Sesshoseki”. The legend states a horrifying fox disguises itself as a stone in order to kill people. This mask is a representation of what the fox looks like according to legend. Unfortunately, this mask shown has an unknown creator but we do know it was sculpted. The jagged lines of the mouth and teeth present hostility and fear to the viewer. Also, the lines that shape the eyes give the mask a more menacing look.
In the 19th century the Yup’ik eskimos created masks for various healing or community-based ceremonies. One such event was called the Bladder Ceremony. During this ceremony the Yup'ik would calm the souls of the hunted seals that were taken during the hunting season. Each mask had its own unique design that came from the creator’s dreams. This mask represents a bears face and was carved from wood. The creator put emphasis on the ears to make them larger than normal. This is because the Yup’ik people consider bears to have a heightened sense of hearing. Symmetry is displayed in a very minimal form here. The mask doesn’t have much detail, but the reflection in symmetry is well developed here.
Artist Aram Jibilian used the Akh Gorky mask pictured in a series of photos that depict his friends and family wearing this mask, and one other, from a certain painting. The faces he borrowed were from a piece called The Artist and His Mother. He wanted the subjects wearing the mask to bond with the identity of Gorky and his feeling of hidden identity. While the mask itself is made from a simple dibond and UV pigment, it’s the colors of the mask that really speak to the viewer. The dull skin tones with blues framing the face, subtly speak sadness and loneliness. While the rounded and natural lines are calming to look at, the emptiness depicted in the eyes tells a story of loss of identity and sadness.
This Sendombo mask comes from Mongolia and represents angry Buddhas. These masks are larger than a human head, and when worn, are used for religious dance rituals around the New Year. The functions of these rituals were to rid the society of all the evil that occurred over the past year. While the artist is unknown, the medium used is simple painted paper mache with ornaments. The red coloring omits a sense of danger that works well with the five skulls attached to the top of the head. These five skulls serve as synonyms for the expulsion of five evils that are jealousy, pride, ignorance, pride, and desire. The emphasis on this piece is the skulls atop the head. The placement of them on the top of the head immediately draws the viewer’s eyes. This is appropriate as this is a mask that represents evil. The color is another focal point as the red and green are very complimentary of each other. The beautiful colors, symmetry, and emphasis this piece has presented a comprehensive sense of unity.
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