In the main gallery an 18th- to 19th-century skull mask from the Tibetan Sherdukpen people of northern India seems made to order for a Mexican Day of the Dead festival, while what looks like an African monkey mask is actually from Nepal
Italian Carnival Mask”
The show emphasizes transcultural twists and turns. A 19th-century Italian carnival mask made of painted papier-mâché has much in common with a demonic mask of a Tibetan king used in ceremonial dances in 18th- or 19th-century Bhutan. (It’s made of the same material.) A pale, moonlike mask with a woebegone expression and a pale, angular, grinning visage next to it — both in carved, painted wood — might almost belong to the same comedic drama. Yet the moon mask is Korean, for satiric dances; the angular one is Swiss, a witch’s mask for winter festivals.
Kovave Spirit mask from Papua New Guinea
Many of the masks are feats of construction and conjuring. Consider a spirit mask from Papua New Guinea used in male initiation rites; it is made mostly of tapa cloth, reeds, grasses and seed pods, with its conical hat, wide ears and long, wolflike snout toothed with sharp nails. Or an Eskimo shaman’s mask made of wood, wire and feathers. Its stern face, with the black goatee and curled mustache of a dime-novel villain, is encircled by two rings of twig from which tiny hands and feet sprout. It seems to orbit toward us, getting bigger every second
Duchess” (1994) by Rammellzee.
When it comes to contemporary art, masks aren’t what they used to be as objects, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less potent in effect. A remarkable object by the artist-rapper Rammellzee channels Japanese face armor and its more recent descendant Darth Vader while maintaining a streetwise, found-object funkiness all its own