Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Break

I just first off to thank everyone who reads the blogs. I know mask history is a pretty obscure area, but there seems to be a valid interest!

This will be my last entry until the New Year. I will be resting, but also doing more research and preparing for the next body of work, that being masks in modern culture, outside of already mentioned "Costume Celebrations". In the new year we'll be looking at masks in sports, masks on the big and small screen, and masks we use in day to day like such as protective wear, among other subjects.

Big plans for the new year. Also in the New year I will finish up Asia and North American mask history. I haven't neglected African or Australian, hopefully I can fill those out in New Year as well.

Have a wonderful holiday everyone!


Asia Masking History: Japan

Japan masks date back to the Jomon period 10000 BCE to 300BCE. There are few mask artifacts during this time. The ones that have been found made of clay, unlike their European counterparts which were made of stone. Because of the time frame, it is difficult to discern the use of these masks, though ritual and ceremony were probably the main uses. The Yayoi period (300 BCE-300 AD) and Kofun (300 AD-552 AD) have yielded very few mask artifacts. One of the remnants of the Kofun period is made of wood and seems to be of a different make than the Jomon period masks. In order to fully get examples we must move forward to 7th century Japan.

At this time, masks were coming into use in drama and theatre in Japan. These masks, called “Gigaku”, are the oldest known masks in Japan. These masks are believed to possibly have their origins in Korea. Very few originals remain, and we know little about them. We do know these masks had the forms of animals, birds, demons and super-type humans. These masks were made of wood, and often had very dramatic looking faces. This theatre went through various incarnations, eventually evolving into Noh theatre, which is still performed in Japan and similar in other Asian countries. Noh, was introduced by Kannami Zeami in 1336. Noh theatre is a performing art that uses masks. Performances can take a full day. Noh, along with Kyogen (which is interspersed as a humorous interlude between Noh performances), Kabuki, or face painted theatre, and puppet theatre are the four main types of theatre in Japan. Noh and Kyogen are the only ones that use masks in this theatre. As we will find in greater detail in later chapters, men would play roles of men and women while wearing masks; this would become known eventually as the precursor to “dolling” in Kigurumi in Japan, a type of role play. That role play in turn would help inspire a different type of role play(or Cosplay) in North America and Europe; a type of cross-dressing role play also called “masking”. Over in Asia, coming into the 7th century, masks come into use in drama and theatre in Japan. These masks, called “Gigaku”, are the oldest known masks in Japan. These masks are believed to possibly have their origins in Korea, brought over by a person named Mimashi, who is said to have brought it originally from Wu, China. This theatre, accompanied by musical accompaniment would be mime or dance related, with little if any dialogue. We do know these masks had the forms of animals, birds, demons and super-type humans. These masks were made of wood, and often had very dramatic looking faces. Gigaku evolved into Bugaku, which flourished in Japan between the 9th and 12th centuries. The music, which was provided by a deeper orchestra, would be often be of a slower pace, and the masks, while stylized, were more often used to represent day to day life. The masks, called Bugaku, covered only the face, as opposed to Gigaku, which covered the whole head. The theatre evolved again into Noh theatre.

Noh Theatre is one of four types of theatre in Japan, along with Kyogen, or farce, Kabuki, which is performed with heavy face paint, and Puppet, which uses puppets. Only Noh and Kyogen theatre uses masks to tell in its story telling. Mask making and usage seems to become an integral part of the story telling, with over 80 “essential” masks, and over 200 total masks used. The use of these masks is not taken lightly. The masks are used as a way of describing different emotions, and are changed frequently during the performance. Only the main character, called the Shite, and his companions wore masks, smaller characters did not. Please note, my use of “his” is important; only men were allowed to perform theatre, similar to their European counterparts in the middle ages. Men would play men and women roles both. The women role playing, called “Dolling”, also carries over to modern day Kigirumi and Cosplay. The shite is very important. He will choose the primary mask before costuming is done, and the costuming will be made around that mask; the concept is that it is the interpretation of the character and how they look, not the showing of individuality, which is important. This is an interesting example of the mask creating the character, not just as a prop to help the actor .

An interesting aspect of masks takes place in Japan during the middle ages, or “Shogun Era”( 794 AD-1867 AD) The Shogun regimes reigned over the populace. The Shogun was essentially the military leader of the country, and held great power over the armies. The soldiers for the Shogun, called Samurai, at first were merely public servants. Over time, the Upper and Middle class warrior ranks would receive this description. It is in this unusual area we find masks. The Samurai would often ride into battle wearing a type of mask that was two-fold; it protected the face, and was made to intimidate the enemy. The masks, often as grimacing faces, were worn over the lower half of the face as a psychological edge against opponents. An ornate helmet covered the upper half of the head-giving an almost outer-worldly appearance; like some demon from the nether regions for the earth. The masks were made of leather or metal, and were often passed down from generation to generation. The masks protected the face and often neck as a metal bib would hang down over the chest. During this time Ninja would wear head coverings as well. Ninja were used for anything involving subterfuge; sabotage, assassination, and espionage. The ninja would wear a hood like a baklava today. Wearing dark colours, the ninja’s costume was that of blending into shadows. There must be made mention at this time of another type of mask that was used, in the religious realms. These were masks called the Gyodo. Unlike the Samurai and warfare, these were used exclusively for Buddhist ceremonies such as purifying a new temple or casting out evil forces. These masks were larger than the Japanese theatre ones, and portrayed deities, dragons, monsters and other larger than life characters.

Friday, December 10, 2010

North American Mask History Part 1

In North America, masks were being used since the Neolithic Era. Though dating is difficult, it is believe that the first indingenous people made their way across the frozen Bering Strait approximately 13000 BCE. The Bering Strait is the current oceanic boundary between modern day Alaska of the United States, and Russia. During this time period, the Strait was frozen over, and it it believed that many made their way from the Asian continent into North America. The Inuit are seen as one of the oldest “named” people of this time, living in modern day Alaska and the Canadian Territories. These peoples are believed to be the first “indigenous” or Native North Americans. The Inuit would become one of oldest groups of Native people. Early masks from this time have been found to be stone in nature, similar to the ones in Europe. What is interesting to note is that the masks in North America date back further than Europe, where the oldest accepted physical mask in from 7000 BCE. The inuit live in a harsh environment. Formerly called “Eskimos”, these people had a significant part of their lives dedicated to ritual and storytelling. Due to simple age they could be seen as one of the “first” storytelling peoples in North America. The cold environment meant that masks had to be made of sold materials, such as bone or stone to survive the elements. The Inuit, those who currently inhabit areas in Alaska of the United States, The Yukon, North West territories and Navanut of Canada. These people were using stone masks as part of their own rituals, as stone artefacts have been found. These masks have been dated back to 2000 BCE.

Moving southward into modern day Canada, the first indications of “named” Native bands include the Mohawk people-from approximately 0 AD. The Iroquois among others are descended from this tribe. This tribe mainly was centered around modern day North Eastern North America. The masks for this region tend to be of a minimalist nature, usually carved from one piece of wood. In the North West, the Pacific North West people are found. With the tall redwood forests, and the proximity to the Pacific Ocean, these masks tended to be more ornate, . In the Pacific Northwest, natives were using masks in ritual. The masks would get become very detailed and complex through the centuries. The first masks were one piece and carved of wood or stone. As masks evolved, two piece masks were made, one inside of another, the outer splitting open to display the inner. Sometimes these masks would even have a third mask inside. Obviously, the bigger the mask, the heavier, so the storyteller would have to be strong. An example of the two split mask would be of a salmon, and the split mask would show the salmon bringer, a story told about someone who went under the water to catch the salmon. These masks were used for storytelling and rituals. As well, the stories were a telling history of a tribe, honouring their ancestors as they did. Where there were natives, there were masks of wood or stone, or a combination of both.

The Hohokum people would populate what is now the modern day Southwest. The time for this group seems to be date between 1200 BCE-400 AD and are considered among the “oldest” of the named tribes. Set in the Southwest, a more arid land, the masks of these people were carved from stone and were minimalist in nature. The Navajo also appear around this time in the South to Mid West.

Moving southward into Mexico and South America, the Olmec and Mayan people can be traced to before the Common Era. The mask usage of Mayans in ritual and celebration is filled with masks made of stones, including Jade, as well as metals of bronze and gold. Like their counterparts across the Atlantic, the Egyptians, these people too would build temples, study astronomy, and lay their dead with stone and metal masks. The Mayans would continue until approximately 1000-1100 AD, where they would disappear, leaving their masks and pyramids behind. The Aztecs would rise around 1200 AD. The Aztecs, known for their Gold and Jewels, made beautiful precious masks for their ritual, celebration and ceremonial purposes. It was during this period from The Olmecs to the Aztecs, that a Latin celebration finds it’s origins; The Day Of the Dead.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Europe Mask History Part 3

As much as there was celebration in Europe, there was horror, In 13th century Europe, the Black Death. Masks have a role to play even in this dark period. The pandemic wasted the country side, killing hundreds of millions of people. During this time, plague doctors would go from home to home to tend the sick. The mask they wore, while intending to be protective, also became a symbol of the plague itself. The mask, called the bird mask, looked just like that. It had a long beak, sometimes up to half a metre (1.5 feet) in length. The protective intent was in the beak itself; they were believed to be filled with herbs to help protect them from the airborne virus. The herbs also helped to stave off the smell of the dead and dying around them. It was believed during that time that the virus was from birds, so possibly the bird head was a way to try and ward off other birds and possibly the virus in some manner. What is also interesting to note, though seldom mentioned, is that the bird head often resembled that of a raven, a bird associated with death. For the poor person suffering from the plague, a visit by the doctor was a signal that the end was near. Many died with the beaked head being the last thing they saw before leaving this world.

Masks would have another dark use duing the middle ages. Rome was advancing quickly with technologies, such as running and heated water, paved roads, and a bustling economy. Rome was also becoming a bloodthirsty society, and the dungeons were filled with those who had felt Rome’s wrath. Torture was in regular use, and masks would play a violent part in this age. Ranging from simple iron masks which held the captive in perpetual darkness (respectively speaking a symbolic “slap on the wrist”), to head pieces which would choke, maim and kill. The masks, often in grotesque shapes and forms, had a psychological effect on those who were to sentenced to wear them, instilling fear in the intended victims. Masks ranged from a “bridal’s scold”, a mask that had a hinged piece of metal that went in the mouth, forcing the victim to close their mouth in order to relive pressure, but also preventing them from talking. Similar masks, often adorned with long tongues and big ears, were worn by shamed people accused of gossip and heresy. They would often sit in town squares to be humiliated and jeered by the townsfolk.

From the 14th to the early 16th centuries, processional theatre went on the move, and masks went with them. Travelling in carts and carriages, theatre troupes would travel from town to town, performing for alms, food and shelter. In Spain, we can also see performers putting on mini performances, going from town to town, with a number of “sets” making up one play. These productions would become often more farcical with bawdy humour, much to the delight of the townsfolk. This continued until end of the 16th century. At this point, Protestant Reformers were growing in the countries. They took offense at this theatre and attempt to quash it and the masks they wore. It seemed a repeat of the 5th Century “Dark Ages”. An exception is with the Catholic Church, who feels theatre is important, provided is “dogmatically correct”, so theatre survives in some places under this form until the 18th Century.

The Age of Enlightenment was growing. Spirituality, theatre, and symbolism were slowly becoming seen as unnecessary. Logic, science, and a greater understanding of the universe were now important. Masks would disappear with the arts and rituals for the next century as an attempt to place science at the forefront of society. So during this time masks were once again confined to the dustbin of history. The enlightenment would continue until the close to the 19th century-the French revolution and similar started to change the tides.Some suggest that, while logic and intelligence was important, education was also important. Because it was only the upper classes that could obtain education, it became a case of “have and have not”. As a result, the poor were seen as unimportant and pushed down. The revolution would change this as freedom of expression, including art and spirituality would again come to the forefront. Masks would come forth again in theatre and Carnival.

The celebrations continued, though even the celebrations seemed to be getting carried away. Violence and out of control rowdiness brought things to a close. The Carnival in Venice was stopped in 1797, which is surprising considering that it survived through the days of Enlightenment where the rest of Europe was asked to put down mask use and theatre.