Unmasking art: A collection of exotic masks from different states of India

An exhibition of 123 masks from across India, and one from Nepal, shows how the art of mask-making has changed over time and is now on the verge of disappearing altogether.

art and culture Updated: Jun 02, 2017 17:52 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
Mask,India,West Bengal
A collection of 123 masks from across India, including one from Nepal, are on display at an ongoing exhibition in the city.

What’s common between a human dressed up as Lord Hanuman and an artist performing the Kathakali dance? The answer is—their masks. Get ready to learn about the rich tradition of Indian masks made in different parts of the country, at an ongoing exhibition, Mukhosh — Masks of India, held in the Capital. Here, 123 masks are on display.

“Masks were mostly used for ritualistic purposes or in dances such as the martial dance Chhau, from West Bengal. Even today masks are used, such as in the Ratha Yatra at Puri in Odisha. But the masks, which are made today, are very different from what they used to be earlier. The masks from Odisha’s Puri, Midnapore of West Bengal and from Assam are more recently made than others in the exhibition,” says Neelam Malhotra, curator of the art show.

Bhuta mask.

Each of the masks have a distinct quality about them. The mask from Karnataka appears to be the face of a demon and has a ferocious look whereas the one from Odisha has a slight smile on the face. Also on display are Bhuta mask, Chhau mask from West Bengal, masks from Bastar Tribes, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Banaras, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Another intriguing mask is an elaborate one from Nepal, which depicts an elephant’s head.

The mask from Nepal, which is on display among Indian masks, at the exhibition.

“Some of the masks are wooden, a few are made of wrought iron whereas the rest are usually made using the technique of papier mâché,” says Malhotra, who has curated the exhibition largely out of the private collection of collector Siddhartha Tagore.

A mask from one of the Bastar tribes.

Tagore informs that masks in India were made of paper, so that they could be disposed off when worn out. “And they didn’t cost too much either. Today, the new generation of mask-making artists (which is very limited) use new materials and adds decorations of artificial stones, pearls and everything that’s cheaply available. “Whereas earlier, the mask-makers used to craft the masks quite intricately,” says Tagore adding, “It’s interesting to see that the masks from West Bengal are inspired from even those birds and animals, which are extinct now. This shows how old the art of mask-making is in our country.”

A mask from Himachal Pradesh.

Most of the masks in the exhibition are more than a decade old, but there are a few that have been moulded recently and the exhibitors worry that soon the contemporary generation of mask-makers will also take to other professions leaving India devoid of its rich history of masks.

  • What: Mukhosh - masks of India, a folk tradition
  • Where: Art Konsult, 3-A, Hauz Khas Village
  • On till: June 10
  • Timings: 11am to 7pm
  • Nearest Metro Station: Green Park on Yellow Line

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First Published: Jun 02, 2017 17:51 IST