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, ritual object, Siberia, Stanovoy Mountain Range, Evenk, end 19th century, Copper, leather, Dim.: Height 23cm, width 14cm, Gift of Joseph Martin, 71.1887.42.7
Shamanic masks are rare in Siberia. The mask may sometimes have a protective function, but essentially it facilitates the symbolic separation from the human world and promotes the concentration of the shaman whose eyes open onto the spirit world. Headbands, handkerchiefs, fringes or hair hanging over the eyes may also take the place of masks.