Photo Essays | What is Culture?
Here we present images and observations on Mexico's indigenous mask-making tradition from Bill LeVasseur, founder & curator of Another Face of Mexico folk art gallery and mask museum in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Cultural Windows Photo Essay: Mexico's Indigenous Masks
A Window Into Traditions of Mexico's Indigenous Ceremonial Masks
Viejo/Old Man Mask from Quinceo, Michoacan.
"There are two Mexicos, there's the one you'd see if you came to San Miguel de Allende or a larger city or one of the beach resorts and then there's indigenous Mexico."
The Dance of the Fish/Pescado.
"In 2015, 25.6 people in Mexico self-identified as been indigenous, which is 21% of the population.
Day of the Dead.
"Mask ceremonies are part of a fiesta. A fiesta is really a community's expression of its cultural roots. It's often religious and it's about a community organizing its limited resources for food and drinks and fireworks and paying the musicians and out come the dancers and the masks."
The Dance of the Wild Beat/Los Tecuanes.
"Masking is really anything that you do to that is in any way transformational."
"One of the things that I see when I'm in these villages is a strong sense of community celebrated their sense of cultural identity or cultural cohesion. That expression manifests itself on steroids during on fiestas."
Dance of the Old Men/Los Viejos.
"Every mask has a story, it has context."
The Farmer’s Dance/Los Tlacolorers.
"Masking started in hunter/gatherer societies. As human went the cranial development roughly 30,000 years ago, it occurred to hunters if they looked and acted like the animal they were pursuing they would be more successful."
Xantolo Mask - The Day of the Dead.
"The Day of the Dead represents lost souls who are in purgatory and looking for a road to heaven. The dancers perform and then go from house to house and beg for sustenance to sustain them on the road to heaven."
El Catrin/The Dandy.
"Carnival in indigenous Mexico is really an opportunity for the local population to have their world upside and they're allowed to do and say things that they would never be allowed to do in the rest of the year."
The Dance of the Conquest.
"Masks are also used in Villages to reenact historical events like the dance of the Conquest where Contez and the Conquista are fighting the Aztecs."
Dance of the Parachicos.
"The dance of the Parachinos is one of the most dynamic performances. They have this huge parade of dancers and the church lets the dancers perform inside the church."
Dance of the Negritos.
"The dance of the Moors and the Christians is the one dance that is imported from Europe. The Mask of the Moor very often looks like a Spanish as the natives would mask as their oppressors."
Moors and Christians/Los Santiagos
"The dance of the Negritos is a dance done by natives portraying the blacks who are depicted as being elegant and beautifully dressed. The masks are aquiline and sometimes blue eyes."
Death in Dances. Pharisee Death Masks from San Bartolo.
"You have to be 14 years old or older to be a Pharisee, you to promise the town elders that you will be a Pharisee for 6 consecutive years. You can act out this character for 20 days and you are not allowed to speak when you are wearing the mask."
"It seems to me that humans have to mask. It's part of our psychological DNA."
All photos from the Collection of Bill LeVasseur, Another Face of Mexico Mask Museum, photographer Leah Feldon