Mask is a form of disguise. I is an object that is frequently worn over or in front of the face to hide the identity of a person and by its own features to establish another being. This essential characteristic of hiding and revealing personalities or moods is common to all masks. As cultural objects they have been used throughout the world in all periods since the Stone Age and have been as varied in appearance as in their use and symbolism.
A mask is anything used to hide, protect, or cover part or all of the face. Masks are worn as a part of a costume or a disguise. Some masks are worn to protect such as a catcher's mask in baseball or a gas mask. Most masks worn to disguise are in the form of an animal or another person. Protective masks serve a specific purpose. For example: a welder wears a steel mask with special glass to shield their eyes from the intense light produced by welding rod. Disguise masks include ceremonial masks, theatrical masks, burial and death masks, and festival masks.
Since at least Paleolithic times people have used masks. Made of wood, basketry, bark, corn husks, cloth, leather, skulls, papier-mache, and other materials, masks may cover the face, the entire head, or the head and shoulders, and they are sometimes considered part of an accompanying costume. Masks vary widely in their realism or abstraction, their use of symbols, and their ornaments. The kachina masks of the Pueblo peoples, for example, have only minimal facial features, whereas masks of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest are often elaborately carved and painted, may have movable jaws or other parts, and may even open to reveal a second mask beneath the first. Occasionally, a mask is not intended to be worn on the face, for example the enormous ritual masks of Oceania and the tiny fingertip masks of Inuit women.
The making of masks is a primary artistic outlet in many cultures, and masks from Africa, Oceania, and the Native American cultures of North America are highly prized by art collectors.
The dancer who wears a mask in a ceremony is frequently believed to be transformed into or possessed by the spirit inhabiting or represented by the mask. Masks are often believed to contain great power, being potentially dangerous unless handled with the proper rites. The manufacture of a mask may also be subject to prescribed observances. Iroquois false-face masks, for instance, must be carved from a living tree, which must be ritually asked to grant permission for the carving and must be offered Ritual masks generally depict deities, mythological beings, good and evil spirits, spirits of ancestors and the dead, animal spirits, and other beings believed to have power over humanity. Masks of human ancestors or totem ancestors (beings or animals to which a clan or family traces its ancestry) are often objects of family pride; when they are regarded as the dwelling of the spirit they represent, they may be honored with ceremonies and gifts. The fearsome 6-m (20-ft) high totem masks of the Papuans of New Guinea are believed to frighten away evil spirits and thus protect the living. Totem, ancestral, and other spirit masks are frequently used in initiation ceremonies, and the initiation masks of West Africa are renowned for their beauty. In agricultural rites, masks may represent rain or fertility deities; similarly, animal masks may be worn in ceremonies to ensure a successful hunt. Shamans throughout the world wear masks in curative rites. In East Asia and Sri Lanka, masks may be worn to protect the wearer against (or to cure) diseases such as measles and cholera. In some cultures, masked members of secret societies (such as the duk-duk of New Guinea) terrorize wrongdoers and thus enforce social codes. In parts of Africa, legal judgments are pronounced by masked judges; a historical European analogue is the masked executioner. In festivals in Mexico and other countries, masks may be used for entertainment, storytelling, caricature, and social satire. Grotesque war masks were worn in battle in ancient Greece and Rome, in medieval Japan, and by the Northwest Coast peoples of North America; today, war masks survive chiefly in ceremonies.
In funerary ceremonies, masked dancers may seek to drive the soul of the deceased into the spirit world, where it will not harm the living. In memorial rites, masks may be worn to represent departed personages or ancestors. Occasionally, as in pre-Columbian Mexico, masks may be placed on memorial statues. Burial masks are sometimes placed on the face of a corpse (for example, by the Hopi people and in ancient Egypt, Rome, China, and Mexico), either to protect the deceased from evil spirits or, as in Egypt, to guide the dead person's spirit to its home in the afterlife. Death masks, made from wax impressions of the features of the deceased, were used in Egypt and Rome as models for sculpted portraits. In medieval Europe, the death mask itself served as a memorial effigy; this use, for famous persons, persisted into the 20th century.
Ritual masks survive in modern Western culture in various folk pageants and customs (such as the frightening Perchten masqueraders in the Tirol, and in Halloween and carnival masquerading) and occasionally in other instances.
Ancient Greek drama was semi religious, rooted in masked ritual. The masks worn by actors in Greek plays were large, with conventionalized features and exaggerated expressions; the wide mouth of the mask contained a brass megaphone to help project the actor's voice to the large audiences. These masks fell into two general categories, tragic and comic, with many variations for both types. In Rome, masks were used in comedy and by pantomimists.
In the mystery and miracle plays of medieval Europe, masks were used to portray dragons, monsters, allegorical characters such as the seven deadly sins, and, inevitably, the devil. The actor portraying God frequently wore a gilt mask. During the Renaissance, half masks covering the eyes and nose were used in the commedia dell'arte; these masks are the apparent ancestor of the modern domino mask, which covers only the eyes. Masks were employed in Renaissance courtly entertainments such as the masque and the ballet de cour, and they survived in ballet until the late 18th century. In modern Western theater, masks are used mainly to represent animal characters, although occasionally a playwright or choreographer experiments with masked personages, as in The Great God Brown (1926) by the American dramatist Eugene O'Neill.
In Indonesia, masks are used in village ritual dance dramas and in dramas derived from shadow-puppet plays. The traditional pageants and religious-didactic plays of China required masks representing kings, princesses, and grotesque characters, and the mystery plays of Tibet feature masked players representing demons and other spirits. In Japan, the most famous use of masks is in the No plays; made of lacquered or gilded plaster by highly respected artisans, No masks are admired for their subtlety of expression.
Strictly practical protective masks are worn in baseball, hockey, and other sports. The faceplates of medieval European armor, however, occasionally bore grimacing facial features, and in ancient Roman tournaments soldiers often wore symbolically decorated masks on their helmets.
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