Tuesday, April 9, 2013


How many items does it take to make a collection?  I've heard that the magic number is three, so I'll go with that one.

Before I started my oddities collection, I started buying masks from various places that I had been.  It's a little slow-going because I don't get to travel more than once a year (usually) and my standards for the masks are pretty high.  They have to be somewhat "authentic" -- they have to have some kind of special meaning for the place I'm visiting -- and they have to be hand-crafted (no plastic tourist reproductions).

The first mask I bought was at a workshop on the outskirts of Chichicastenango, Guatemala.  The workshop was owned by a Mayan shaman who was a third-generation maskmaker.  The shop owner took us on a tour of his workplace, which functioned as a small museum, and told us the story of masks in Guatemala.  The Maya did not actually use masks in their rituals until after the Spanish invasion.  Then, they began to use masks as a way to trick or confuse the Spaniards or to represent different aspects of the story of their "conquest"/occupation.  Now, when they use masks, the masks do not actually go over the face but instead are worn on top of the head.  This mask is kind of a mask within a mask (note the jaguar on top of the human face) and is meant to be decorative rather than something that would be used in a performance.  I felt so connected with this place and this experience that I was excited to find something similar the next time I traveled.

I purchased this mask in Venice, Italy from a small workshop near the touristy Rialto district -- so small and dim that you might even miss it among the bright souvenir shops overflowing from this area of the city.  It is in the style of a traditional Venetian Carnevale mask and unlike the plastic versions you can buy all over the city, this one is hand made from plaster, paint, and gold leaf.  An added bonus is that this particular maskmaker designed and made the masks for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.  I was already buying the mask, but after hearing that tidbit, I had him sign the back of it as well.

So, speaking of Carnival masks...
This is my favorite of the three.  I purchased this mask at a costume workshop in Oruro, Bolivia (the Rio/New Orleans of Bolivia in terms of Carnival parade locations though actually it is an austere mining town the rest of the year) after witnessing that year's Carnival.  While Carnival in Brazil is all about the Samba, Bolivia's parades involve a number of different regional dances that are all tied to various points in Bolivia's history -- from memorializing pre-Inca societies to satirizing the wealthy (often European) industrial class.  This mask is worn during a dance called the Diablada that represents the "devil" (only a loose translation) who controls the underground mines on which Bolivia's economy was based for hundreds of years.  While Oruro hosts a huge Carnival parade every year featuring all of Bolivia's dances, this dance is the real "headliner" of the event and its origins are in Oruro (say otherwise and you will not make any Bolivian friends).  This mask is actually what the female dancers wear because the men's masks are so enormous that I wouldn't have been able to get it back to the States, although I did get one tattooed on my calf!  The mask is made of hand-painted metal (can you imagine wearing that while dancing for 6 hours?!) and the shop makes the costumes for people who dance in the parades.

I also have a pair of "African" masks that I received as a gift, but I'm not sure where they came from or what they represent, so I assume they are not authentic or unique and therefore don't really include them in this collection.  I'm not sure where my next mask will come from, but I'm excited to build this collection for the rest of my life and hopefully pass it on to an appreciative grandchild or great-niece/nephew someday.

On a sidenote, this right here is FLIP FLOP WEATHER and I am loving it.

1 comment:

  1. These are SO cool. I also really like the last one -- it is so unique looking. I feel like I just learned so much from reading this.

    And YAY flip flops.