House of Masks
Last week I was wandering around the Center of the Arts in San Agustin Etla, and I made new friends! yay! The trio are on a road trip from Mexico City. Over lunch, Renè invited me to his Uncle’s home, where they are staying:
"You should cancel all of your plans and come back with us because you will love this home. My uncle is an archaeologist and spent his life visiting pueblos around Mexico and Guatemala studying and documenting masks used for spiritual dances. This home has probably the largest collection of old masks in the world.”
Plans cancelled. Let’s go!
The minute I walked into this home, my jaw dropped… room after room, walls upon walls of hand made masks (the photo above is one of many rooms that look like this!). Not to mention Renee’s uncle built this beautiful home with his own two hands, by himself.
Unfortunately, Renee’s uncle is in Guatemala so I never got to meet him or hear his stories first hand. I am so thankful to get to experience it second hand though!!
These jaguar masks are the oldest in his collection, from Zitlala, Guerrero. The color of the masks represents the color of corn they are praying for in the next season. The mirrored eyes symbolize rain/water. As these masks are made out of leather, the villagers would soak them in water before putting it on. The mask then dries on their face, creating a snug fit. This allows them to fully embody the spirit of the character they are playing. They become the jaguar. They become their characters so much so that they don’t need proper eye holes to see, only needing to peek through the tiny spaces between the jaguar’s teeth.
In each mask, lives their story, their connection to spirits in nature, and their prayers. You can feel the energy of the hands that created each one. Their love for each other and for earth. Their history. Their prayers. Unfortunately, because of the drug war in the area, these ancient works of art are being destroyed along with their communities.
This mask was made in Sonora. It is made out of paper, the hair from a cactus. After the dance was finished, the villagers would throw their masks into the river. (I can’t imagine doing that to my own pieces of art…)
Masks of Hernan Cortes (bearded masks). Renè said that in the pueblos, they are still doing the dance of Hernan Cortes… Renè has been to a tribal dance before. He said the dance is really intense - full of passion through drumming, chanting, dancing.. it was difficult for him to describe in words. He said he was pushed into the dance circle and had to “fight” Hernan Cortes. I get the sense that through that dance, he walked away with a deeper connection to this pueblo and what they’ve been through.
More! Here are some of my favorites.
These rituals must be so healing… to embody the spirit of what you are praying for. Or to replay history in the way your heart wishes it would have been. To allow your imagination to travel to the depths of your spirit, with intention. To allow your prayers to flow through your hands to art, and through the art back to your body, and out of your body to the Universe. My prayer for them is that these dances continue to live, in peace. That the art and tradition of mask making by hand is honored and preserved. That the new generation can stand by these rituals and feel a sense of pride, and connection to their roots.