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African Collection & Exhibit

THE UNIVERSAL MASK

Masks are universal to Mankind. We find them as early as 30,000 B.C. On cave paintings of hunting scenes with masked dancers. The mask-bearers were believed to be possessed by the spirit represented by the mask.

The masks seen here are used in ceremonies related to initiation, health, marriage, prosperity, harvest, peace, death, birth or the dispelling of evil spells.

The masks in the permanent collection of the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art are very old and have been abundantly used. The emotions which characterize them are many and varied. They run the whole gamut of possible expressions. Some of them are awesome and stark. They suggest powerful and fearsome individuals. Other masks are cheerful, sometimes even comic. No possible expression of the inner soul has been missed.

The forms of masks typically have not changed during the centuries. That makes dating sometimes almost impossible. The reason for this strict adherence to style is the concept that the spirit will not recognize its abode if it is different from the conventional forms.

Carving a mask is a very sophisticated art and trade. Very often the knowledge of carving is transmitted from father to son through several generations, but sometimes a young man is selected because he has shown a special gift for carving.