Tribal masks in Art Kitli – Primitive Art: a vanished reality?

Masks are found in almost every culture of the world. In prehistoric times hunters knew how to dissimulate and how to transform themselves. They wore animal masks in order to approach their prey without being seen. […]

Among tribal masks, inspiration can be individual and the artist is at liberty to express his fantasy. Ingenuous freshness and instinctive expressionism are pivotal. In the second cultural type, the design and proportions of the characters are canonical and repetitive. The artist reproduces the features of a well known face that he has studied under a master. The shape and aspect are codified. For example, the Hindu god Krishna is depicted blue, and for Buddhists the proportions of the Buddha’s face has a precise geometrical pattern. The art of crafting masks is related to iconographical prescriptions and reflects a pantheon of given characters. On some rare occasions, material relating to Hindu or Buddhist masks, has already been published, but tribal masks of the Middle Hills are virtually unknown to ethnologists.

Ritual masks – of gods, clowns or local demons – originated in the remote past. They had their roots in ancestral and shamanic cults which were later dominated or eliminated by the growing influence of the dominant religions. From an aesthetic viewpoint, tribal masks are probably more intriguing. Their extraordinary variety and the freedom with which they were executed invite us to compare them with modern art, as has frequently been the case with other primitive arts.

The most obvious feature that strikes us in all of these masks, regardless of category, is the total exaggeration and caricatured traits created to impress the onlooker.  […]

We cannot always expect our western aesthetic criteria to apply to Himalayan art. Taste, and hence the notion of style, is often a cultural rather than an individual matter. A folk story illustrates this point well. A Tibetan merchant heard about a beautiful old leather mask in a mountain village and set out to find it. When he finally reached the village three days later, he discovered it was an oxygen mask with a glossy black patina, an old keepsake from a climbing expedition. Piously kept to that day by the local people who had forgotten where it came from, it was used in the festival as a joker mask.

Eric Chazot, an expert in Himalayan masks and a professional traveller.

This article has been taken from Art Kitli, a magazine from CEPT University, Ahmedabad.

Source: Art Kitli: Primitive Art: a vanished reality?
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Date Visited: Wed Mar 14 2012 11:48:47 GMT+0100 (CET)

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