Mask making is a part of Mexican ritual life that pre-dates the arrival of the Spanish. Masks in Mexico are used in a wide variety of dances, ceremonies, festivals and theatre, but the most common uses are with traditional dances. In these dances, non-professional performers wear masks to transform themselves into other beings or characters. While most traditional masks are made of wood, they may also be made from leather, wax, cardboard, papier-mâché and other materials. Most masks are scaled to fit the human face, with dancers looking out of slits just above the painted eyes.
The masks in this exhibit represent a variety of the types of masks created in Mexico.
Devil masks vary from depicting near normal human faces to those with animal and/or grotesque features. The masks are traditionally used in various dances and representations during Christmastime and may use serpents and lizards as allusions to elements of pre-Hispanic Gods. Devil masks are mainly found in the Mexican states of Guerrero, Michoacan and Colima.
Skull masks have their origins in the pre-Hispanic period. The depiction of death in pre-Hispanic Mexico was not fearful but rather a part of life. Skull masks can be basic white or with fanciful decorations; while some are serious, others may be depicted laughing.
The Huichol Mask comes from the Huichol, Native Mexicans living in the Sierra Madre Occidental Range in Mexico. The Huichol Mask, also known as a “kuka”, is a three dimensional ceremonial mask decorated by beading. Huichols create the masks by covering the masks with bees wax then impressing colorful seed beads (chaquiras) into the wax, creating intricate designs.
Many indigenous groups in Mexico and Guatemala use monkey and other animal masks in the performance of dances and pageants that reenact religious and mythological themes. These themes originated in Pre-Hispanic times when masks were buried with the dead, suggesting they had a transformational function and meaning.