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Indepth Arts News:

"Masks: Faces of Culture"
2000-06-25 until 2000-09-17
Museum of Fine Art Houston
Houston, TX, USA

Whether covering the faces of Egyptian mummies, medieval knights, Siberian shamans, Mardi Gras revelers, or Houston Astros baseball catchers, masks play an essential role in the human experience. The human need to mask reveals a desire to take on other identities, to transcend earthly limitations, to be renewed, and to be protected. An intriguing new exhibition tells this story, recognizing that masks are not only works of art but also cultural icons. Masks: Faces of Culture presents nearly 140 masks, 30 of which are on view with full costumes.

Masks are used in all sorts of human drama. Throughout history, societies have incorporated masks into both initiation and burial rites. Shamans use masks and costumes as a kind of armor while warding off evil spirits. Masks are integral to masquerades of renewal, such as harvest festivals, fertility festivals, and New Year celebrations.

In the theater, actors don masks to transform into fictional personae. On the battlefield, warriors wear armor and gas masks. For astronauts and firefighters, masks function as vitally important protective gear. At sporting events, football players need helmets, and goalies rely on hockey masks.

Masks: Faces of Culture embraces the entire first mezzanine level of the Caroline Wiess Law Building. The exhibition is organized into sections, starting with a Paleolithic image from the Old World. Then come masks for rites of passage, masks for festivals of renewal, and female masks made to be worn by males. Theatrical masks are next, followed by protective masks for fighting evil spirits and for use in sports and other professions.

This visually powerful exhibition has a global reach.You will see works from Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Haiti, India, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Sardinia, Switzerland, and many other countries of the world. Some of the masks are fun, some are frightening, and all are fantastic.

Papua New Guinea,
Northern New Ireland,
Tatanua Helmet Mask,
Late 19th century.
Wood, paint, opercula shell, lime plaster, plant
fiber, bark, bark cloth, rattan, coral.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston;
Museum purchase with funds provided by an
anonymous donor (90.256)
Copyright The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Photograph by Thomas R. DuBrock.

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