Masks have played a role in human culture for ages. In tribal settings they have been used for communicating supernatural concepts, for providing community cohesiveness, for enforcing behavior and for artistic expression. Most African tribal cultures have masking traditions, including certain aesthetic values that help to identify the distinctiveness of the tribe or people.
Yet, mask carvers always have ventured beyond simply repeating an accepted design and into variations that reflect their individual sensitivities, visions and skills. As a result, African masks in particular have evolved with a variety that makes them very desirable to art collectors and, on a more commercial basis, for decor.
Today, masks are used in masquerades and costume parties mostly to entertain and assume a make-believe role. Once, they were considered a way to change or hide one's identity. This theme shows up in theater and literature, although common sense tells us that obscuring the face is a more fantastic than real way to disguise ones identity.
Now, masks have taken on a psychological dimension, References to "masking" as a way to change one's persona show up time and again in discussions of human psychology. As an aside, we at Aboriginals: Art of the First Person have had psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists acquire masks from our gallery collection, for use in their practices and as items for professional display.
We have recently encountered another blog with a well-written discussion of masks and the masking tradition here. We also encourage you to visit our web site at TribalWorks.com to see several masks representing different African tribal aesthetics.