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Who Are Those Masked Men?

The legendary American masked man the Lone Ranger hides his identity from outlaws behind a slash of black cloth, while most other superheroes conceal their virtuous characters under tight-fitting spandex. Americans are used to righteous men and women disguising their selflessness for the betterment of humankind. But non-heroes also wear masks: the executioners of old, and the night riders of the Ku Klux Klan—if you accept that a hood is a mask. A mask is thus a contradictory symbol: on the one hand, it connotes evil and fear; on the other, truth and justice. A mask is also an integral part of national ritual and mythic experience in virtually all cultures. In Mexico, on the Day of the Dead, ceremonial masks are worn to suggest a panoply of emotions and a range of personalities. Japanese theater masks, used to represent archetypal characters, alter the actor’s sex, emotions, and demeanor as makeup never could. In Lithuania, as in so many other once agrarian cultures, masks are used to transform their wearers into both beasts of burden and animals slaughtered for food.

Below is a small sampling of masks. For more information go here and here and, let’s not forget, here. To read the exhibition statement below, click on the photograph.

(See yesterday’s Nightly Daily Heller for a Thanksgiving suggestion.)

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