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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A mask is an object normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes. They are usually worn on the face, although they may also be positioned for effect elsewhere on the wearer's body, so in parts of Australia giant totem masks cover the body, whilst Inuit women use finger masks during storytelling and dancing.

Contents

Etymology

The word "mask" appeared in English in the 1530s, from Middle French masque "covering to hide or guard the face", derived in turn from Italian maschera, from Medieval Latin masca "mask, specter, nightmare". This word is of uncertain origin, perhaps from Arabic maskharah مَسْخَرَۃٌ "buffoon", from the verb sakhira "to ridicule". However, it may also come from Provençal mascarar "to black (the face)" (or the related Catalan mascarar, Old French mascurer). This in turn is of uncertain origin — perhaps from a Germanic source akin to English "mesh", but perhaps from mask- "black", a borrowing from a pre-Indo-European language. One German author claims the word "mask" is originally derived from the Spanish más que la cara (literally, "more than the face" or "added face"), which evolved to "máscara", while the Arabic "maskharat" - referring to the buffoonery which is possible only by disguising the face - would be based on these Spanish roots. Other related forms are Hebrew masecha= "mask"; Arabic maskhara مَسْخَرَ = "he ridiculed, he mocked", masakha مَسَخَ = "he transfomed" (transitive).

Masks in performance

Throughout the world masks are used for their expressive power as a feature of masked performance - both ritually and in various theatre traditions. The ritual and theatrical definitions of mask usage frequently overlap and merge but still provide a useful basis for categorisation. The image of juxtaposed Comedy and Tragedy masks are widely used to represent the Performing Arts, and specifically Drama.

In ancient Rome the word persona meant 'a mask'; it also referred to an individual who had full Roman citizenship. A citizen could demonstrate his or her lineage through imagines, death masks of the ancestors. These were wax casts kept in a lararium, the family shrine. Rites of passage, such as initiation of young members of the family, or funerals, were carried out at the shrine under the watch of the ancestral masks. At funerals professional actors would wear these masks to perform deeds of the lives of the ancestors, thus linking the role of mask as a ritual object and in theatre.

Masks are a familiar and vivid element in many folk and traditional pageants, ceremonies, rituals and festivals, and are often of an ancient origin. The mask is normally a part of a costume that adorns the whole body and embodies a tradition important to the religious and/or social life of the community as whole or a particular group within the community. Masks are used almost universally and maintain their power and mystery both for their wearers and their audience.The continued popularity of wearing masks at carnival, and for children at parties and for festivals such as Halloween are good examples. Nowadays these are usually mass-produced plastic masks, often associated with popular films, TV programmes or cartoon characters - they are, however, reminders of the enduring power of pretence and play and the power and appeal of masks.

Ritual masks

Ritual masks occur throughout the world, and although they tend to share many characteristics, highly distinctive forms have developed. The function of the masks may be magical or religious; they may appear in rites of passage or as a make-up for a form of theatre. Equally masks may disguise a penitent or preside over important ceremonies; they may help mediate with spirits, or offer a protective role to the society who utilise their powers.

Europe

Masks are used throughout Europe, and are frequently integrated into regional folk celebrations and customs. Old masks are preserved and can be seen in museums and other collections, and much research has been undertaken into the historical origins of masks. Most probably represent nature spirits, and as a result many of the associated customs are seasonal. The original significance would have survived only until the introduction of Christianity which then incorporated many of the customs into its own traditions. In the process their meanings were also changed so, for example, old gods and goddesses were, literally, demonised and were viewed as mere devils, subjugated to the Abrahamic God.

Many of the masks and characters used in European festivals belong to the contrasting categories of the 'good', or 'idealised beauty', set against the 'ugly' or 'beastly' and grotesque. This is particularly true of the Germanic and Central European festivals. Another common type is the Fool, sometimes considered to be the synthesis of the two contrasting type of Handsome and Ugly.

The oldest representations of masks are animal masks, such as the cave paintings of Lascaux in the Dordogne in southern France. Such masks survive in the alpine regions of Austria and Switzerland, and may be connected with hunting or shamanism, and tend to be particularly associated with the New Year and Carnival festivals.

The debate about the meaning of these and other mask forms continues in Europe, where monsters, bears, wild men, harlequins, hobby horses and other fanciful characters appear in carnivals throughout the continent. It is generally accepted that the masks, noise, colour and clamour are meant to drive away the forces of darkness and winter, and open the way for the spirits of light and the coming of spring.

In Sardinia existed the tradition of Mamuthones e Issohadores of Mamoiada; Boes e Merdules of Ottana; Thurpos of Orotelli; S'Urtzu, Su 'Omadore and Sos Mamutzones of Samugheo.

Another tradition of European masks developed, more self-consciously, from court and civic events, or entertainments managed by guilds and co-fraternities. These grew out of the earlier revels and had become evident by the 15th century in places like Rome, and Venice, where they developed as entertainments to enliven towns and cities. Thus the Maundy Thursday carnival in St Marks Square in Venice, attended by the Doge and aristocracy also involved the guilds, including a guild of maskmakers. There is evidence of 'commedia dell'arte' inspired Venetian masks and by the late 16th century the Venetian Carnival began to reach its peak and eventually lasted a whole 'season' from January until Lent. By the 18th century it was already a tourist attraction, Goethe saying that he was ugly enough not to need a mask. The carnival was repressed during the Napoleonic Republic, although in the 1980s its costumes and the masks aping the C 18th heyday were revived. It appears other cities in central Europe were influenced by the Venetian model.

During the Reformation many of these carnival customs began to die out in Protestant regions, although they seem to have survived in Catholic areas despite the opposition of the ecclesiastical authorities. So by the 19th century the carnivals of the relatively wealthy bourgeois town communities, with elaborate masques and costumes, existed side-by-side with the ragged and essentially folkloric customs of the rural areas. Although these civic masquerades and their masks may have retained elements drawn from popular culture, the survival of carnival in the 19th century was often a consequence of a self-conscious 'folklore' movement that accompanied the rise of nationalism in many European countries.

In the beginning of the new century, in 19 August 2004, the Bulgarian archeologist Georgi Kitov discovered a 673g golden mask of a Thracian king in the burial mound "Svetitsata" near Shipka, Central Bulgaria. It is a very fine piece of workmanship made out of massive 23к gold. Unlike other masks discovered in the Balkans (of which 3 are in Republic of Macedonia and two in Greece), it is now kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia. It is considered to be the mask of the Thracian king Teres.

Masks in theatre

Comedy masks of ancient Roman theatre

Masks play a key part within world theatre traditions, particularly non-western theatre forms. They also continue to be a vital force within contemporary theatre, and their usage takes a variety of forms.

In many cultural traditions the masked performer is a central concept and is highly valued. In the western tradition it is sometimes considered a stylistic device which can be traced back to the Greeks and Romans. In some Greek masks the wide and open mouth of the mask contained a brass megaphone enabling the voice of the wearer to be projected into the large auditoria. In medieval Europe masks were used in mystery and miracle plays to portray allegorical creatures, and the performer representing God frequently wore a gold or gilt mask. During the Renaissance masques and ballet de cour developed - courtly masked entertainments that continued as part of ballet conventions until the late eighteenth century. The masked characters of the Commedia dell'arte included the ancestors of the modern clown. In contemporary western theatre the mask is often used alongside puppetry to create a theatre which is essentially visual rather than verbal, and many of its practitioners have been visual artists.

Masks are an important part of many theatre forms throughout world cultures, and their usage in theatre has often developed from, or continues to be part of old, highly sophisticated, stylized theatrical traditions. See also Masks in ritual.

Disguise

Masks are sometimes used to avoid recognition. As a disguise the mask acts as a form of protection for the wearer who wishes to assume a role or task without being identified by others.

  • Criminal perpetrators have been known to wear masks as a means in concealing their faces and thus identities from their victims and from law enforcement. In many jurisdictions the act of wearing the mask itself can compound the crime or be prosecuted as an Inchoate offense.
  • Occasionally a witness for the prosecution appears in court in a mask to avoid being recognized by associates of the accused.
  • Participants in a black bloc at protests usually wear masks, often bandannas, to avoid recognition, and to try to protect against any riot control agents used.

Masks are also used to prevent recognition whilst showing membership of a group:

  • Use by penitents of masks in ceremonies to disguise their identity in order to make the act of penitence more selfless. The Semana Santa parades throughout Spain and in Hispanic/Catholic countries throughout the world are examples of this, with their cone shaped masks known as Capirote.
  • Use by vigilante groups
  • The cone-shaped mask in particular is identified with the Ku Klux Klan in a self-conscious effort to combine the hiding of personal identity with the promotion of a powerful and intimidating image.
  • Members of the group Anonymous frequently wear masks (usually Guy Fawkes masks, best known from V for Vendetta) when they attend protests.

Punitive

Masks are sometimes used to punish the wearer either by signalling their humiliation or causing direct suffering:

  • A "shameful" mask (Schandmaske in German) is devised for public humiliation; a popular reduced form are donkey ears for a bad pupil or student
  • Particularly uncomfortable types, such as an iron mask, for example the Scold's bridle, are fit as devices for torture or corporal punishment
  • Masks were used to alienate and silence prisoners in Australian jails in the late 19th century. They were made of white cloth and covered the face, leaving only the eyes visible.
  • Use of masks is also common in BDSM practices.

Fashion

Decorative masks may be worn as part of a costume outside of ritual or ceremonial functions. This is often described as a masque, and relates closely to carnival styles. For example, attendants of a costume party will sometimes wear masks as part of their costumes.

  • Wrestling masks are used most widely in Mexican and Japanese wrestling. A wrestler's mask is usually related to a wrestler's persona (for example, a wrestler known as 'The Panda' might wear a mask with a panda's facial markings). Often, wrestlers will put their masks on the line against other wrestlers' masks, titles or an opponent's hair. While in Mexico and Japan, masks are a sign of tradition, they are generally considered by many in the United States to be a deathblow to a wrestler's character. Very few masked wrestlers have succeeded in becoming popular and generally are considered as jobbers. The belief is that fans want to see a face to empathize with and will only get behind a wrestler that shows it.
  • Several bands and performers, notably members of the groups Slipknot, Mental Creepers and Gwar, and the guitarist Buckethead, wear masks when they perform on stage. Several other groups, including Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Dimmu Borgir simulate the effect with facepaint. Hollywood Undead also wears masks but often remove them mid-performance.
  • Animal masks are worn about a subculture of frequent electronic music concert-goers. Each person has a specific animal mask that they usually wear, and wear that mask throughout the duration of the concert without removing the mask. While wearing the mask, these concert-goers go by a code name. They may also attend concerts unmasked, but when unmasked, they go by their real names. One particular group within this subculture. the Animal Masqueraders, coordinates mask-wearing times and social gatherings through a blog where all the members can communicate with each other.
  • Leather-working, steampunk, and other methods and themes are occasionally used to create artisanal gas masks.

Horror film

Masks have been used in many horror films to conceal the identities of the killer. Notable examples include Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th series, Ghostface of the Scream series and Michael Myers of the Halloween series.

Other types

  • A "buccal mask" is a mask that covers only the cheeks (hence the adjective "buccal") and mouth.
  • A death mask is a mask either cast from or applied to the face of a recently deceased person.
  • A "facial" (short for facial mask) is a temporary mask, not solid, used in cosmetics or as therapy for skin treatment.
  • A "life mask" is a plaster cast of a face, used as a model for making a painting or sculpture.

See also

Namesakes




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mask" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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