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Art Through Time: A Global View

Ceremony and Society Compare: How Do Masks Transform Their Wearers?

Barong Mask
Artist / Origin: Balinese artist, Indonesia
Region: Oceania
Date: Early to mid-20th century
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Wood, leather, twine, wire, hair, mirrors, pigment
Medium: Other
Dimensions: H: 12 ¼ in. (31 cm.), W: 18 1/8 in. (46 cm.), D: 10 ¼ in. (26 cm.)
Location: Fowler Museum, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
Credit: Courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA

Mask (sowei)

Mask (sowei)
Artist / Origin: Mende artist, Sierra Leone
Region: Africa
Date: 19th century
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Wood, pigment, plant fiber
Medium: Other
Dimensions: H: 26 ¾ in. (68 cm.), W: 9 ½ (24 cm.), D: 10 ½ in. (27 cm.)
Location: Fowler Museum, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
Credit: Courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA

How do masks transform their wearers?

Masks exist in almost every culture, and although they might be worn in different contexts and with different goals in mind, they all have one thing in common—they allow the wearer to become someone other than his or her everyday self. For this reason, masks are often associated with ceremony, events that by their very nature are “uncommon.” The Balinese Barong and the Mende sowei exemplify the transformative and transporting effects that masks can have on both wearers and the communities of which they are a part.

Questions to Consider

  • Both the wearer of the Barong and the wearer of the sowei are believed to channel spiritual forces. What is the relationship between mask, wearer, and spirit in each case?
  • The Barong and the sowei aren’t worn by just anyone. What makes a person qualified or worthy of wearing each of these masks? Why do you think the identity of the wearer is important if the individual is to be hidden behind the mask anyway?
  • Neither of these masks appears in isolation. Both are worn as part of ceremonies that involve costumes, dance, music, and other forms of art, visual and non-visual. What impact do you think this kind of stimulus might have on viewers? In what ways do you think ceremonies like these might benefit their respective communities?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


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