About face: ‘Masquerade’ exhibit a colorful eye-opener to cultures of the world

The concept of a mask is universal and is the perfect analogy for the examination of humanity’s duality. Masks have been used for thousands of years and for a variety of purposes. They provide anthologies of folklore and customs that allow us to better understand our ancestors. From now until April, the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County will host “Masquerade: Ceremonial and Traditional Masks from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas,” an exhibit that takes a more personal peek at the various ceremonial and traditional masks that an array of cultures use throughout the world.

“This exhibit speaks to all of the different kinds of masks that people wear,” said Robert Vierck, the museum’s director of public relations. “Some of the masks come from Haiti, Africa and various collections from around the country. It’s very impressive and there’s quite a history if you think about Halloween and all of the celebrations that people have with masks and costumes. This is quite a nice celebration of those types of artwork that people have been doing for centuries.”

The collection boasts an expansive assortment of masks with worldwide origins. Being host to such a vast collection in an intimate environment is something special that should not go unvisited.

“An exhibit like this helps expose the people of Centre County to larger and more extensive artwork than simply the local artists,” Vierck said. “It gives us an opportunity to see national and international artwork and helps expand the universe of Centre County while also still keeping it local.”

Using an assortment of materials used for their specific construction, the masks on display serve as an anthropology course of sorts, documenting the native materials used to create them.

“The exhibition is an opportunity to view cultural works from many regions of four continents,” museum director Patricia House said. “The masks may be appreciated for their artistic creation and as an expression of culture.”

“This exhibition covers more countries at the same time and it shows different cultures all in the same exhibit,” Vierck said when comparing “Masquerade” to other shows that the museum has hosted. “It’s really very colorful yet culturally significant.”

The idea of masks dates back to the prehistoric era, roughly 13,000 BC, with some of the earliest European cave art depicting its inhabitants donning masks. In the thousands of years since, various cultures have used masks to celebrate major life milestones, the changing of the seasons and the worship of spiritual powers. These sorts of traditions have been passed down since the dawn of time and are still in use today to coincide with major events such as Halloween and Mardi Gras.

“I think that it’s because you can hide behind it or become the person or even the event,” Vierck said of why he thinks people are still drawn towards the concept of wearing masks. “Masks are part of a costume and part of our cultural tradition.”