Reveal Conceal: The Transforming Power of Masks

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S’xwaixwey mask, ca. 1870-1900. Salish, Southern Northwest Coast, North America. The Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art.
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Windmaker mask, ca. 1890. Central Yup’ik, Alaska, North America. The Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art.

In masks we see the many faces of the human condition. The act of masking transcends cultural differences and is celebrated in all facets of the human family. Masks herald death and rebirth in rites of passage. They ensure successful harvest, fertility and prosperity throughout the year. Masks create a link to the past, family identity and hereditary rights. In religious rituals the masker often becomes the spirit being represented, or is a medium through which the spirit communicates with the people. Masks are a bridge to the spiritual realm and in some cultures are thought to possess the power of healing. Masks bring storytelling and theater to life. Through masks we reveal ourselves as gods, heroes, spirits, demons, tricksters and ordinary people while at the same time concealing our everyday identity. The masks encountered here entice and empower their wearers to transform, reveal, conceal and connect us to the timeless tradition of masking.