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.
Anthropomorphic transformation mask
Transformation mask, Haida, Canada, British Columbia, 19th century, cedar wood, fibres, green red black and white paint, metal, ancient collection of André Breton, gift of Aube Breton-Elléouët and Oona Elléouët, 70.2003.9.2
After contact with the West and the arrival of metal tools, the art of the Haida Indians of the west coast of Canada experienced its golden age during the mid-19th century, before this society was decimated by disease. Transformation masks portray an ancestor or a mythical hero. The story of their exploits is recounted through theatrical performances. These were performed during the ceremonial cycles of the initiatory winter festivals. These masks were passed between the initiated and were used for several years. The inside of this mask from the early 19th century contains tenons which, using a system of strings, allowed the jaw and eyes to be opened and closed. The crescent moons painted on the temples and the eyeballs appear when the eyelids are opened and closed: the opening and closing of the eyes refers to the day and the night respectively.