Article by Laura Evans
The history of masks is a fascinating look at human frailty and imagination. Humans have used masks for different reasons throughout time, from blending into scenery to standing out from other people. The main concept behind most masks, with the possible exception of funerary masks, is to hide a person's identity. Masks have been used for religious purposes, for artistic purposes and just for fun purposes.
History of Masks
Masks have been used for thousands and thousands of years in cultures around the world. Early masks were probably made from local materials. Harder-to-find or more precious materials would probably have been used to embellish more important masks in ancient times, as they are now.
Over the centuries, masks became associated with religion. For example, ancient Egyptians considered mummy masks to be an important part of the transition to afterlife. Today, masks made by the Iroquois people are so precious to their beliefs that the Iroquois leadership is requesting the return of face masks from museums and private collections. Traditional Iroquois want to properly care for these masks according to their ancient traditions.
Sometimes, a culture starts to use masks for a specific reason only to have that reason change over time. For example, masks were initially used during carnival to hide people's identities. Wearing masks allowed people to cross class lines and behave in inappropriate ways without fear of shame. As societies' morals and cultures have changed, wearing masks has become less necessary for concealing sexual indiscretions. Today, they are just another part of carnival's atmosphere. This is not to say some naughty things no longer occur behind masks.
Masks have long been featured in entertainment. Masks have been an important part of dances around the world. They have been an essential part of theater in countries such as China, Japan and Korea for centuries. Mardi Gras masks have been a part of American culture since the 17th century. Masks have also been indispensable in literature, plays, movies and television.