The Masks of Mexico at the FolkArt Gallery

Mexican Masks

The use of masks and costumes extends back for thousands of years and was a well-established part of ritual life in Mexico long before the Spanish arrived.

The use of masks in Mexico dates from 3000 BC. Masks were used by priests to summon the power of the gods and also in the sacrifices of pre-Hispanic Mexico. Then, when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, masks were used to educate the indigenous population on the Christian faith. Dramatic presentations such as the Battle of the Moors and the Christians impressed the indigenous people with the power of the newcomers. Over time, the two cultures began to intermingle and mask presentations represented the ever-evolving belief systems.

Today in Mexico, masks are used as part of the tradition of the village festival, honoring saint's days, Carnival and major Christian holidays such as Christmas. Participants fulfill religious vows by their involvement, while the dances educate and communicate the shared values and concerns of the community. They are a part of elaborately scripted dance dramas involving festivities of music, stories and song, sometimes lasting for several days. The festivities are meant to entertain but also to ensure the prosperity and welfare of the community.

Contemporary masquerade in Mexico can be divided into three categories. The first deals with the theme of struggle and conquest. The Dance of the Moors and Christians is a good example of this type since it is an allegory for the battle between paganism and Christianity or the triumph of good over evil.

The second category deals with themes dating to pre-Hispanic times. For example, the Dance of the Tlocololeros (Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Morelos states) centers on the hunt for a tiger that's been devastating the fields. The hunters (Tlocololeros), who in Guerrero wear sack-like costumes, wide-brimmed pointed straw hats, and wooden masks, are believed to be rain deities. They hunt the tiger which represents the dry season.

The third group consists of clowns and buffoons. The Dance of the Old Men, performed in the state of Michoacan is believed to be related to the Aztec Dance of the Old Hunchbacks. The dancers represent old men who stagger around supported by walking sticks to the amusement of the audience.

“Clowns in Mexico are often seen wearing devil masks. These characters are treated as comic figures. They show up during Carnival or to honor local patron saints. The missionaries had ordered their new converts to abandon the ancient gods, calling them "demons". The people found that by putting horns on the masks of their gods they could get around this order. Today many of the contemporary masks worn by "el diablo" (the devil) retain some of the features of the ancient gods.” (from Rita Pomade © 2008 The Masks of Mexico).

"The European devil had no counterpart in the pre-Columbian world because hell didn't exist. No one believed that bad behavior during life was punishable after death. They recognized the dual nature of people and phenomena and therefore had no concept of absolute good or absolute evil."

"The devil often shows up in the company of death at festive occasions and is also a benign figure. The Aztec underworld, governed by Mictlantecuhtle, the Lord of the Dead, was just a place to go. He did not reward virtue or punish sin. Therefore he aroused little fear in the living and could become a deity to burlesque." (from Rita Pomade © 2008 The Masks of Mexico)

Our masks are all vintage, authentic, collectible pieces, collected approximately 30 to 40 years ago. Many were old when they were first collected. Mostly, these pieces are difficult to find today.


Mexican Sun Mask

Unusual vintage Mexican sun mask. The sun is an important spiritual symbol for many different ethnic traditions in Mesoamerica and extending even further south into the Incan culture.

Polychrome wood mask with "cobb" rays painted gold.

    9”T x 9 ½”W x 5”D. $250.00

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Mexican Armadillo Mask

A very unusual vintage mask.

16 ½” tail tip to nose tip x 7 ½” W x 8” from wall to tip of tail. $300.00

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