31 December 2009

Darkness and Light: Transforming Winter into Spring




Masks were often used in European folk celebrations to symbolically chase the darkness of Winter and usher in the light of Spring. In ancient Rome the word persona meant mask and related to the ancestral funeral masks that were a part of a family's shrine. These masks would represent ancestors during the transitions of birth, marriage and death. Later masks became a feature of elaborate carnival festivals in Italy and other Roman Catholic countries. Florentine Lorenzo Lippi's (1606 - 1664) painting Woman with a Mask depicts a young woman holding a tragedy mask in one hand and Persephone's pomegranate in the other. Throughout the world masks have been utilized for ritual, performance and amusement. In Japan the stylized Noh mask that appears in classical musical drama evolved from prehistoric myths. The mask allows the wearer to be transformed into an animal, god, demon or the opposite sex. Japanese masks have influenced Western theater, composers and poets. The Mask Grows to Us, a photograph by American Clarence John Laughlin (1905-1985) shows a surrealistic vision of how we become the persona we present to the world.

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