WHEN MASK IS
INNOCENT AND AESTHETICALLY SUBLIME
by Dr. Gautam
THINK! when mask is not
hypocritic guise or camouflaged farce but innocent like the primitive
people of the world ; those are aesthetically sublime and culturally very
much functional! Yes today we are talking about an exhibition of rare
collections of Mask from various parts of the world which is being
organised by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts at Mati Ghar, New
Delhi from 20th Feb.--25th March,1998.This is part of the International
Mask Festivals organised by Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Indira
Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi and National
School of Drama wherein Mask Dances from India and Abroad enthrilled
people which is connected with this Exposition and a Seminar on Mask by
The exhibition ‘Rupa-Pratirupa’ was opened with the
symbolic bell ringing by the Head of Japanese Mask dance delegation and
the designer of the exhibition Dadi Padamji quipped ‘Drop your Mask and
see the exhibiton’. Here grandeur of masks awaits all!
Dr. Kapila Vatsayayan, who conceived the international
Mask festival and initiated this massive collection said that " The first
reference of Mask is found in the rock paintings sometime 30000 B.C., some
historian dates it 10,000 B.C. which has a continuous history of powerful
masks....". Since 1992 IGNCA has been collecting masks from all over the
world under its programme of ethnographic collections which numbers today
about 600 and half out of which were collected from abroad. Ms. Krishna
Dutta, incharge of Mask acquisition says "Mask is a universal phenomenon
and most of the countries have mask heritage except the Arabic world". She
also indicated that in Eastern Africa the culture of Mask is shifting into
oblivion from its main stage.
Nevertheless, one can see here masks from across the
world and those are : South Asia; the Himalayan range and Central Asia;
East Asia; South-east Asia; people. Africa; Oceania and Australia; Europe;
Meso-America; and North America and the Arctic. However, exhibition does
not show wide variety of Indian Masks especially of idigenous people.
Nevertheless, these 300 odd masks are not to be viewed in isolation rather
those are interconnected with the macro cosmic concept of Purusa to the
Micro-cosmus -- the man. The exhibition finds its connectivity from
Natural World to subtle sacred rituals. The main sections are: Natural
Power; Emotions; Narrative;Social World; Celebrations and finally rituals.
The expositon highlights how man looked at nature and
created masks of animals and along side one sees the animal world with
their emotive faces much close to pre-historic look, then again those are
so, as perceived by the man as Rupa and Pratirupa.
From this macro-natural power one goes to the world of
Emotions which are no theatrical expressions but very close to every self
.Those emotions are colourfully codified within those wooden masks be it
sadness or happiness, anger or a look of the ‘empty mind’. The Nanging
mask from Bhutan or Mahishasura from Purulia, yes the place of recent arms
dropping, projects anger and wrath. The sordid looking masks of Korea or
joy and laughter of Mexico takes you to the world tour. The peace and
tranquility is echoed in the collections from Bali and Indonesia are
simply mesmerizing and even in African mask one finds projections of peace
where sordidly enough today, this is much sought after commodity.
Masks then, are covered under the ‘Narrative’ and
‘social world’ which reflects the epic themes on the one hand to the
theatrical potent vehicle. Mask are very decorative at the level of epic
depictions of Ramayana and Mahabharata in South East Asia. On the other
hand the satiric social characters similarly evoke very sound response.
Walking through the corridors of mask one come across
‘celebrations’ around the globe.
Masked ceremonies are held on auspicious occasions and
days where people pay a tribute to the nature be it harvesting or sacred
festivities. It is important to understand that Masked ceremonies play a
key role in harnessing the world of mystery and threat. Ms.Krishna Dutta
explained that ‘the processions with mask is a world wide phenomenon and
this collective celebration creates a neutral space where culturally
constructed identities disappear.’
Then one comes to the ritual section where the
sacredness of ‘spirit’ and ‘man’are placed across. Through ritual, since
the olden days, man connected the world of ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’. No matter
those are decried as ‘black-magic’ but shows a very powerful endeavour of
man to know the unknown. Those Mystical Masks be it of deities or cult
icon or even exorcism and ritual healing stands proudly to make a point.
The depiction of diseases like paralysis, deafness are encoded in the Sri
Lankan masks where the healing god’s mask and the headgear is studded with
various human ailments. So the interplay of illness and healing are no
just ritual but a powerful communication between man the sufferer and the
spirit the healer.
Finally, when I came out of the Mati Ghar I looked back
at the dome where a huge mask is curved out. I told myself ‘Hats! O no
Mask off to you Kapilaji’. I am sure this exhibition would make you think
about your true identity --a soul searching journey ,so don’t miss!