Fiesta: Faces of Mexico
March 27-October 31, 1995
While we are alive, we cannot
escape from masks or names. We are inseparable from our fictions--our
features. We are condemned to invent a mask for ourselves
and afterward to discover that the mask is our true face.
Paz, 1970. Posdata. Mexico City: Siglo XXI, p.
Much of traditional Mexican
culture was lost when the Spanish arrived with their law,
religion, and lust for power and gold. All that wasnt
lost had to adapt and change. This is what human culture is
best at. Cultural practices find new meaning and cultural
products find new uses. Through selection and adaptation,
tradition evolves and survives.
The dance rituals for which
the masks in this exhibit were produced and used have a history
as old as Mexican culture. At each point in history, and in
each individual village, dance rituals take new forms. These
dances and festivals continue in Mexico today, although they
are surely different from those of 100 years ago ...or 500
years ago ...or 5,000.
The cultures of Mexico
before the Spanish conquest had a complex understanding of
the world around them. All humans, animals, natural forces,
primary substances, and gods were part of a single unity and
assumed changing forms and natures. Life and survival hinged
upon rain, drought, fish and game, and the unpredictable hand
of the gods. Early Mexican gods are not "good" and
"evil" figures, but rather beings who reflect this
unitygods who assume human, animal, and fantastic form
and whose behaviors are unpredictable. In human form, these
figures are much like the gods of ancient Greecefickle
and fallable, victims of vanity, avarice, ambition, jealousy,
and anger; their histories in myth are stories filled with
struggle and conflict, emotion and drama.
The traditional dances and
ceremonies for which these masks were originally used are
stories of gods, animals, and natural forces. In Pre-Conquest
times, these ceremonies focused primarily on the inseparability
of animals and humans. Hardship, sacrifice, human ingenuity,
and rebirth are major themes in the dances.
After Spanish conquest,
Christian priests took advantage of these dances, recreating
them as morality plays, teaching the principles of Christianity.
A new emphasis on human-faced masks accompanied stories of
Christian priests, African slaves, and religious and political
conflict. The value of hard work is stressed and new concepts
of "good" and "evil" appear, with Christian
priests as major characters in the dances. As in Pre-Conquest
times, though, these dances are often "mockeries,"
poking fun at the all-powerful forces.
The masksand the stories
which they help to tellreflect the essential, yet changing,
nature of Mexican life and survival. New peoples, situations,
and forces are adapted to a colorful, imaginative, and expressive
tradition by which individuals can become the world around
of mask-making is complex and varied,
but, as a practical simplification, mask specialist Donald
Cordry has divided mask-makers into three basic groups: professionals,
amateurs, and santeros.
are well-trained and produce masks in the traditional styles,
according to customary methods of manufacture. They have usually
been apprenticed under older mask-makers and have been taught
to preserve traditional forms. Occasionally, these mask-makers
create their product under the influence of hallucinogenic
drugs which enable them to gain direct inspiration from the
Amateur mask makers
may be apprentices to professional mask-makers or may be attempting
to access the craft on their own. A lower technical quality
of work and lack of adherence to traditional forms is the
usual criteria for their title of "amateur." Many
of these mask-makers produce products for the growing tourist
keeping with a tradition as old as Christian colonialism in
Mexico, are trained and supported by the Catholic Church.
They make both Christian masks and church statues and sculpture.
Their work tends to be of the highest technical quality and
utilizes more ornate and decorative materials.
|| The decline of traditional
dance rituals combined with an increased demand for dance
masks as both art and souvenir has resulted in many masks "on
the market" of questionable origin, age, and value. Although
these "tourist masks" lack the anthropological authenticity
of having actually been used in dance rituals, many of these
masks exhibit fine craftsmanship and a knowledge of historical
types and styles. Because of this, coupled with the amazing
diversity of masks, dances, and festivals from village to village
throughout Mexico and throughout history, it is all but impossible
to verify the authenticity of a mask type when its place of
origin is unknown.
|| Culture is forever changing.
Often, significant aspects of a culture can slowly disappear
over generations without anyone noticing the loss. Sometimes
cultural objects are snatched from their homeland, separated
from everything which gave them meaning and value. All too often,
when a loss is realized or a mysterious object long separated
from its origins is discovered, it is too late to put the pieces
together and understand the nature of a past culture or the
identity and function of its artifacts. The masks in this exhibit
are no exception. The Yakima Valley Museum borrowed them from
the Cheney Cowles Museum in Spokane, which had received them,
directly or indirectly, from private collectors who appear to
have purchased them as souvenirs. Except for four tags marked
"Guerrero," we have no information as to the exact
origins of these masks, their makers, the dances they were used
for, or the characters which they represent. Because of this
and the nature of Mexican culture with its unique local variations
of tradition, it would be irresponsible to claim any definite
connections between masks, villages, or specific dances. We
have attempted to present these masks in groups, and with related
information, so that the "larger picture" is clear,
if not the specific details.
Used in Mask-Making
Chiapas Machete, Saw, Compass, Gouge, Chisel, Polishers,
Esophagus of Bull (Used to smooth paint).
Guerrero Machete, Knife, Gouge, Chisel, Saw, Adz, Sickle,
Hidalgo Gouge, Chisel, Knife, Sandpaper.
Michoacán Handsaw, Rasp, Knife, Gouge, Plane, Sandpaper,
Machete, Chisel, Brush (angarito)
Oaxaca Chisel, Knife, Gouge, Machete, Handsaw, Plane, Sandpaper,
Barbequi (saw), Ax, Moso de Medra.
Puebla Hammer, Knife, Wooden mallet, Mold.
Zacatecas Knife, Adz, Gouge, Chisel, Improvised tools.