The impressive masks on display in this exhibition, Masks: Mysterious forces, encode the cultural and mythical beliefs of various indigenous communities, taking form within a ritual context to assist their makers to connect with ever present ‘mysterious forces’ affecting their lives. Even within the relatively bounded horizons of village life, forces of transformation continually acted on man and his world, manifesting the certainty of change.
The view of these communities was largely turned backwards to the secrets revealed by the endless rhythms of nature. Culturally-specific myths emerged from shared life experiences over many generations: fertility, maturation, unpredictable failings and death. Intrinsic to these myths was an acknowledgement of the interdependence of natural phenomena. An individual metaphysical energy or ‘spirit force’ was considered to reside in every natural phenomenon.
In these communities, ritual was considered essential for survival, ingratiating man to the forces that controlled the sources of his wellbeing. He endeavored to placate spirits with offerings, art and praise, in order to gain favor. Mythological characters were shaped and performed as moving metaphors for complex needs and disorientating desires. In this way, accumulated cultural learning was transmitted forwards to guide an individual through the transitions of a lifetime.
The mask was produced and charged with a multiplicity of meanings and intellectual complexity. Masked rituals offered a means of exerting social control to maintain harmony in the community and its environment. Masks were used to define positions of power and submission and transmit behavioral codes related to power, duty and pleasure.
The aesthetics of transformation are embodied in the masks in this exhibition. The secrets they encode lend them dramatic distance and reinforce our experience of the partial knowledge of man’s understanding of his world compared to the complexity of reality. Even when these masks are removed from their cultural environment, stripped of costume and adornment, the aesthetics of these beautiful artworks are powerful enough to rouse mysterious forces within our psyche.