Masks: Perception and Misdirection

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

  –Dunbar

The mask is able to form a bridge or a barrier between the real outer world, and the inner person. It has a dual purpose. It can hide, it can reflect back, or it can be a transparent or translucent filter to the soul.

The ancient world, the tribal world treated masks as instruments of revelation . A passage to the world of the gods. The mask gives form to the formless powers of the ancient spirits and ghosts.

The Latin work for mask is “persona” or “false face.” An aspect of the personality shown to or perceived by others. An alternate self…

Masks cannot be thought of as works of art alone – they serve multiple functions, all of which contribute in expressing the human elements and messages, which they personify. These functions, briefly can be indicated as:

  • to evoke certain reactions in the beholder, for instance, awe of the god represented, fear in an enemy, or ecstasy in possession or trance
  • to cure disease in men, cattle, and crops by impersonating the supernatural power
  • to represent religious totems
  • to emphasize social wrongs by enacting the role of wrongdoer or by satire

As a tool in both popular and sophisticated theatrical forms, the mask helps in portraying various socio-cultural themes through direct or indirect or even satiric depiction of people or various social concepts. Religious rituals of various forms in various cultures also have wide use of masks in initiation rites, life-cycle ceremonies, rites of exorcism and ritual healing, and also in celebration ceremonies like those after crop harvests. All three possible types of masks – ritual masks, war and monstrous masks, and masks for tribal and folk performances at the time of festivals – are ritual in origin.

Noh Theater.. use and cultural significance of masks.

What lies behind the mask?