Tribal and Primitive Masks

All ritual masks are created to be simultaneously conductors and vessels of power; they instill that power in the shaman who can then heal, assert authority, encourage germination and the harvest, predict the cycles of the seasons and the stars, inaugurate the viewer into full manhood and womanhood, inspire fear in the uninitiated, and offer protection against the sorcerers who hide in the darkness and thunder.

Tribal and primitive masks elicit from us what our ancestors would have understood as a holy dread and sadness in the face of a mysterious and terrifying universe. They are our link to an ancient world order, a mythical realm we have only half-forgotten; they incarnate the invisible and magical forces we acknowledged when we were more overtly a hunting and warring people.

All great masks disconcert us: they remind us that our ancient fears are our modern anxieties. Even out of their tribal-ritual context, hung on the wall or monted on a stand, the masks still possess a powerful force and establish a sacred circle which cannot leave the sensitive observer unaffected. They remind us that our sense of stability is only a precarious vacillation between antithetical states: pleasure and pain, chastity and wantonness, dream and reality.

The talismanic masks of primitive societies stare back with heroic dignity at the irrational flux and malevolence which flows out of the universal darkness which surrounds us. Their audacious virility is an assertion of humanity's capacity to pierce the darkness, to plow the soil, and to perserve, if only for a while, against the final calamity.