Sunday, March 17, 2024

Timeless Faces

We see masks often here in Oaxaca. There are many celebrations throughout the year when masks are worn along with a traditional costume.

Mexican masks have a rich history deeply intertwined with cultural and religious practices. These masks have been used since ancient times, dating back to 3000 B.C., initially by priests for summoning gods and during sacrifices. When the Spanish arrived, they introduced the devil to Mexico. Soon after, horns were added to the masks of native gods, transforming them into "devils" to promote Christianity. Devils often appeared alongside death at festive occasions. Yet, the Aztec underworld was not a place of punishment, thus, people were less fearful of death. The devil became a benign figure. 

Recently a new friend we made on the coast insisted we simply must see an exhibit of masks in Oaxaca. Called Timeless Faces, at a museum founded by artist/philanthropist Fernando Toledo in the village of San Agustin Etla the exhibition of 700 pieces is from the anthropologist René Bustamante's collection.

Amy and I made the 50 minute drive from our village to see the exhibit. For a Saturday, it was remarkably quiet. The building is grand and the grounds too. Climbing the grand, broad stairway in front, we entered the cavernous space full of masks. What a delight for two artists that love culture. Immediately we became engrossed, wandering off separately then recombining to marvel and discuss.

Most traditional masks are made of wood, while some are made from leather, wax, cardboard, papier-mâché, or other materials. They commonly depict old men and women, animals, the fantastic or supernatural.  

Masks, including devil masks, have been an integral part of Mexican cultural and religious life, with mask makers being revered members of society. Today, devil masks in Mexico retain features of ancient gods, showcasing a blend of pre-Hispanic history and Spanish influence. These masks are used in various dances and rituals, symbolizing a fusion of the two cultures and serving as a link between Mexico's past and present traditions.

Wearing masks during mystical, religious or communal celebrations is practiced across the globe.

Personally, I have always enjoyed masks and own a small collection of African, Asian and Venetian masks. 

My brother from Santa Barbara, California is coming in a couple weeks to visit us. His wife is originally from Mexico. Amy and I will return with them and see the exhibit again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful experience!