The mask hides as much as it reveals, “denies as much as it affirms”, as Claude Lévi-Strauss asserted. Very often the holder of a secret, the mask conceals that which only the initiated should know.
The mask’s power also lies in its capacity to incarnate spirits, a link between man and his ancestors, between the visible and the invisible world. It is inseparable from a mythical context which structures the mode of existence and thought of the majority of traditional societies.
Central to the life of a group or a community, the mask, an indispensable intercessor, is always active.
Mask, Wauja, Brazil, state of Mato Grosso, High Xingu, 20th century, Caroba wood (jacaranda), palm fibre, cotton, seashell, fish maxilla, Niede Guidon mission, 71.1967.63.6
Wauja masks represent predator spirits which carry illnesses that affect humans and also the means to cure these illnesses. This mask, called "pirara", is used during the dry season and if there has been illness in the village, to drive away the ghost or spirit that caused it. Its face, decorated with geometric patterns, has eyes made from shells and an aggressive mouth lined with the teeth of a carnivorous fish, whilst its long plant fibre fringe signifies the unknown nature of the supernatural body.