Meaning of MASK in English

type of disguise, commonly an object worn over or in front of the face to hide the identity of the wearer. The features of the mask not only conceal those of the wearer but also project the image of another personality or being. This dual function is a basic characteristic of masks. A brief account of masks follows. For full treatment, see Masks. Men have made and used masks imbued with symbolism and ascribed spiritual power since the Stone Age. The greatest range of mask forms and functions occurs in Africa and in Oceania. It is only since the end of the 19th century, however, that masks began to be exhibited and collected as art objects in their own right or as cultural artifacts. Masks vary widely in materials, construction techniques, appearance, colour, and sophistication. They can be made of wood, stone, leather, paper, ivory, cloth, or even silver or gold and are often adorned with paint, mosaic, shells, or carving. Frequently, they are part of an entire costume that covers the body of the wearer. Masks may derive their features from human or animal forms. In most cases, as for example among various African cultures, the form of the mask is dictated by tradition, and many restrictions and taboos limit the mask designer. The spirit represented by the mask is usually thought to exist in its image, and for this reason the mask maker is obliged to adhere to conventional and symbolic forms and imagery. The completed mask is thought to have supernatural or spirit power quite separate from the maker or the wearer. Within the traditional imagery and convention, the mask maker can exercise his skill as an artist and craftsman to give his own creative interpretation to the standardized forms. The mask wearer is like an actor who loses his own identity when he dons the mask. For cultures without written histories, the mask often gives a sense of continuity with the past, as its imagery and symbolism refer back to earlier times. The mask forms part of a traditional ritual that associates the spectators psychologically with the past. The spirits represented by masks may be respected and powerful or evil and harmful. They may provoke emotions ranging from pleasure to terror. The ritual meaning of a mask can be appreciated only with a knowledge of its particular cultural context, though the aesthetic qualities may be enjoyed without any understanding of the mask's social and cultural function. In primitive societies, masks are frequently associated with the ritual of secret societies or with the high priest or medicine man. The practice of totemism, whereby a natural object such as an animal or bird is adopted as the emblem of a family line, has led to the evolution of totem masks. These have been used by the Indians of the northwestern coast of the United States and also by some African cultures. Funerary masks and death masks were used in ancient Egypt and were associated with the return of the spirit to the body. Such masks were generalized portraits and, in the case of nobility, were made of precious metals. Gold death masks also occur in Asia and in the Inca civilization. From Roman times onward, death masks were sometimes made and kept as portraits of the dead person. Some masks have been primarily designed to provide physical protection. Mask helmets with frightening expressions were worn by Japanese samurai (warriors). Fencers and other sportsmen may wear masks to protect their faces. Masks are also worn on festive occasions, such as Halloween and Mardi Gras. Festival masks commonly have comic or satiric features and are conducive to good-natured license and ribaldry. Masks as theatrical devices, to represent characters, evolved from religious traditions of ancient Greek civilization. In medieval mystery plays, papier-mch masks portrayed evil and grotesque spirits such as sin and the devil. In the Italian Renaissance, the mask became an important feature of the commedia dell'arte, in which the actors were masked to hide their identities. The small black mask worn over the eyes, often called the masquerade mask, originates from this tradition. Wooden masks coated with plaster and painted white, red, or black (the different colours symbolizing such concepts as corruption, righteousness, and villainy) are still important aspects of the No drama of Japan. No masks are rigidly conventional and stylized. In China and in the Kabuki theatre of Japan, the actual face of the actor is painted to resemble a maskas is that of the circus clown in the West. a form of disguise. It 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. This article deals with the general characteristics, functions, and forms of masks. Additional reading Masks in the Encyclopedia of World Art, vol. 9, col. 520570 (1964), a good historical survey; William N. Fenton, Masked Medicine Societies of the Iroquois, Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1940, pp. 397429 (1941), a very good general discussion of Iroquois masks, with illustrations; Marcel Griaule, Masques Dogons, 2nd ed. (1963), a profusely illustrated classic study of the masks of the Dogon, a people of Mali, within their cultural setting; George W. Harley, Masks as Agents of Social Control in Northeast Liberia, Peabody Museum Papers 32, no. 2 (1950, reprinted 1975), a useful, illustrated article on this topic; Edward A. Kennard, Hopi Kachinas, 2nd ed. (1971), an important study; Dorothy J. Ray, Eskimo Masks: Art and Ceremony (1967), one of the best studies of Eskimo masks, with many fine plates and a bibliography; F.E. Williams, Drama of Orokolo (1940, reprinted 1969), a classic study of masks of the Gulf of Papua, New Guinea, with fine illustrations and a bibliography; Malcolm Kirk, Man as Art: New Guinea (1981), with especially good photographs; Donald B. Cordry, Mexican Masks (1980), a study of how Mexican masks are related to both the European and the Indian traditions; Simon Ottenberg, Masked Rituals of Afikpo (1975), a survey of a Nigerian masquerade tradition; and Leon Underwood, Masks of West Africa (1948), a small book but important for the subject, with good plates. Paul S. Wingert

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