New York, NY, October 28, 2014 — Across culture and time, masks have served to imbue power, transform identity, and connect people with each other and with their sense of the divine and the spiritual. In spring 2015, the Rubin Museum of Art will delve into the significance of masks to peoples across the globe, showcasing their diverse uses and meanings, in the exhibition Becoming Another: The Power of Masks. On view March 13, 2015 – February 8, 2016, the exhibition will highlight stunning masks and costumes from across the globe, including Siberia, the Himalayas, Mongolia, Japan, and the Northwest Coast of America, examining the striking similarities and distinct differences in practices across these distinct cultures.
Featuring nearly 100 masks ranging from the 15th – 20th centuries, the exhibition is organized around three predominant cultural practices: shamanism, communal ritual, and theatrical performance. The shaman medium uses a mask to communicate with or take on the identity of a supernatural entity. In communal ritual, masks are used as part of a broader social function to achieve a benefit for the group. Masks are also an important aspect of storytelling, whether an oral tradition or a theatrical performance. For many cultures, these uses are fluid and intermingled and the exhibition will explore the juxtapositions created by these diverse functions as well as the implications on both individual and communal identity.
“The Rubin Museum of Art holds a rich collection of visually-arresting masks and costumes from the Himalayas, India and neighboring regions, many of which are rarely exhibited. We are very much looking forward to sharing this lesser-known aspect of our collection with our diverse audiences,” said Patrick Sears, the Rubin Museum’s Executive Director. “The broad scope of the exhibition, drawn both from our collection and other important collections around the world, highlights the
universality and timelessness of masks and we look forward to seeing them engage
our visitors’ imaginations.”
Curated by Jan Van Alphen, the Rubin Museum’s Director of Exhibitions, Collections,
and Research, the exhibition guides visitors through a geographic and functionfocused
narrative. Several small groupings of masks explore cross-cultural
similarities and differences in both form and type. The exhibition also features three
exquisite full costumes paired with masks, including a shaman’s costume, an oracle
costume, and a Cham dance costume.
Highlights from the exhibition include:
A bear/land otter mask of Tlingit origin from the 19th century. The mask is
exemplary of those used by shamans of the Northwest Coast of America in
connecting with animal spirits. During a performance, a shaman would seek
the help of or take the identity of the spirit—sometimes changing identities
several times throughout by changing masks.
Shaman’s costume and attire from Mongolia from the early 20th century.
This costume set features helping spirits rendered in metal and fabric and
includes feathered headgear, drum, and boots. It is representative of basic
shaman attire across Mongolia and Siberia.
Transformation mask by the artist Tsungani from the Northwest Coast,
1979. Transformation masks are the most typical and impressive masks of
the Native peoples of the Northwest Coast. These masks consist of several
layers of collapsible masks that can be unfolded throughout a performance to
represent different personalities.
Mask of wrathful Gonpo protector from Tibet, date unknown. During
communal rituals, including those performed in Tibetan Buddhist
monasteries, wrathful deities such as the Gonpo are staged in whirling dance
performances as protectors of the community.
Padmasambhava as Nyima Ozer from Bhutan, 18th–19th century.
Famous historical figures in Himalayan Buddhism appear in different forms in
storytelling and theatric performances. Nyima Ozer is one of eight
manifestations of Padmasambhava, the Indian teacher who brought
Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century.
Mask possibly of Usofuki, a character in Japanese Kyogen plays, 18th–
19th century. In Japan several theatrical forms of drama developed from
medieval rituals and storytelling. Among them is Kyogen—traditional comic
theater. Mask sculpting for these performances requires high craftsmanship
in wood with minute details distinguishing the differences in facial expression
Exhibition Organization and Credits
Becoming Another: The Power of Masks is curated by Jan Van Alphen, the Rubin Museum of Art’s Director of Exhibitions, Collections, and Research.
The exhibition is made possible by loans from the following institutions and lenders:
The Brooklyn Museum, The Newark Museum, American Museum of Natural History, The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology – Harvard University, Museum aan de Stroom-Antwerp MAS, the Bruce Miller Collection, and several private American and European collections.
About the Rubin Museum of Art
The Rubin Museum of Art is an arts oasis and cultural hub in New York City’s vibrant Chelsea neighborhood that inspires visitors to make powerful connections between contemporary life and the art and ideas of the Himalayas, India, and neighboring regions. With a diverse array of thought-provoking exhibitions and programs—including films, concerts, and on-stage conversations—the Rubin provides immersive experiences that encourage personal discoveries and spark new ways of seeing the world. Emphasizing cross-cultural connections, the Rubin is a space to contemplate the big questions that extend across history and span human cultures.
For further information and images, please contact:
Public Relations and Marketing Manager
Rubin Museum of Art
Image credit: Mask of Begtse; Mongolia; early 20th century; papier-mâché, coral, metal, fabric; Rubin Museum of Art; C2006.41.1; (HAR 65692).