The Mexican Masks
By Ruth Deustsch de Lechuga
The expressions of the masks are

infinite and fantasy like. Smiley

masks, evil masks, masks with

horns and ears of diabolic animals;

there is a little of everything, and

everything is a work of art.

Devil, carnival. Mixteco.
The mask has many functions: hide, protect, liberate, transform, disguise, act, and give power the one who puts it on. Many of these functions are found in the masks of today's Mexico.
They say that the "Jews" of Easter put masks on so they are not recognized when going to kill Jesus. During the battles staged by the devils of Tanlajas in San Luis Potosi, or the tigers of Zitlala in Guerrero, the mask protects its owner from the fists of the enemy. Some dancers have told me that they do not dare perform unless they have their masks on; at that moment, they feel free, shameless, and they can move with ease. During Easter, the masked silhouettes take possession of the town and become its only authority. But above all, the mask and garments are supposed to transform a person into a certain character with a specific role in the dance.
Masks have existed in Mexico for at least three thousand years. Pre-Hispanic uses of the masks fused with Spanish ways to form the cultures we see now. Both parts of history have left a trace on the masks, as well as on the dances that accompany them.

Dog, dance of the brown-skinned. Nahuatl.
On some masks we can see the physiognomy of some of the ancient gods. The faces of "viajo", used both in carnivals and in the day of the dead in the region of Huejutla, are quite many-sided. Some resemble the pre-Hispanic deity of Xipe-totec, our impudent sir. During the celebration at his honor, a slave would be killed and a young man dressed with his skin to symbolize the new vegetation layer that covers the earth in the spring. His features were represented with an open mouth and stitches along the mouth. The stitches on the actual mask are imitated with white paint. Although no one remembers Xipe-totec, the image has remained alive with the mask described above.

On the other hand, there are masks resembling the Baroque style. On the facades of many Mexican churches there are masks wearing the expressions of the "patron" of the "parachicos". The technique used to make this and many other masks consists of gently sculpting the features on the wood, sandpaper the surface until it becomes perfectly smooth, cover it with a layer of Spanish white, sandpaper again, apply oil paint, and rub it with animal mucus so it acquires skin texture.
Jew, Easter. Pima.

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