From the mask that Hrithik Roshan donned in Krrish (2006) to the one that Salman Khan wore for his film Kick (2015), all have been popular. In India’s rich cultural tradition – where masks are as popular in Indian folk and martial dances (such as Kathakali and Chhau) as Bollywood – an ongoing exhibition of 33 masks from Mexico, will transport you to a carnivalesque setting.
Titled Masks of Mexico, the exhibition is a window to the rich culture of Mexico. “Throughout the year, there are almost 4,000 celebrations in which masks are used for performances; including Christmas, Easter, Day of the Dead, pilgrimages and the days dedicated to patron saints,” says Melba Pria, Mexican ambassador to India.
Carved out of wood, ceramic, metal, fabric or plastic, most of the masks displayed in this exhibition are used for dance-drama performances in Mexico. “In these theatre performances, dancers and audiences recreate sacred myths, legends and historical events,” says Pria informing that the mask cultures of India and Mexico have many similarities. “In both the countries, the mask-making industry began by demands of religious functions, folk, dance and theatre.”
Some of the masks showcased at the exhibition, are used as part of performances and can be identified with their devilled appearance or vibrant colours. Take for instance, Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men) from Michoacán. “It is a humorous dance where the dancers wear masks of old people along with their typical campesino clothing. Other popular dances include the Dance of Tecuanes, from the state of Guerrero, or the Dance of Negritos, from the state of Veracruz,” adds Pria.
Even masks of carnival dances such as Dance of Chinelos, from the state of Morelos, or the Dance of Mascaritas, from the state of Oaxaca – are on display.
But unlike the mask makers are dwindling in India, majorly due to economic reasons, in Mexico the tradition is still alive and prominent. Pria says, “The production of masks, in Mexico, was traditionally focused on its use by dancers. However, some masks are made for collectors and tourists, too. Many of the mask-makers have other trades such as baking, carpentry or factory work. There are some select communities that have enough demand of masks, to allow mask-makers to devote themselves to the elaboration of these pieces.”
Giving example of the Parachico mask, the ambassador explains that some of the communities of mask-makers are in the state of Tlaxcala, or the town of Chiapa de Corzo, in the state of Chiapas, where the dance of the Parachicos is performed by thousands of dancers, on the traditional January feast – which is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. “One of the most famous mask-makers in Mexico is Antonio López Hernández, who specialises in Parachico masks,” she adds.
Apart from being an integral part of the performances, these masks created with extraordinary craftsmanship, are work of art in itself. Pria says, “They are sculptures through which the mask-maker can unleash his creativity. Masks are also canvases in which one community interprets a topic in its own way. You will see many Mexican houses with masks but not everybody feels comfortable around them because masks have always a personality. Masks in every culture are very powerful.”
Carriers of recurring themes, as a result of Mexico’s shared culture, it is interesting to see how communities and mask-makers interpret the same character or concept in different ways at this exhibition.
CATCH IT LIVE
WHAT: Masks of Mexico, exhibition
WHERE: India International Centre, Lodhi Estate
ON TILL: July 31
TIMINGS: 11am to 7pm
NEAREST METRO STATION: Jor Bagh on Yellow Line