The masked crusaders of art

A mask hides the visage and veils its expression. But doesn’t it wear its own identity? Painted in different colours and designs, crafted into different cuts, shapes and sizes, reflecting different tribes, classes and nationalities — a mask may reveal a lot more than our facial muscles can probably endeavour, by mouthing words. And the effort required to make these masks calls for a skilled art form, which induces painstaking labour, craftsmanship and a keen sense of aesthetics to realise a single finished piece.
Displaying a matrix of uniquely hand-crafted masks at an exhibition captioned Mukhosh (Bengali for masks), the Design Studio in Kolkata’s posh Ballygunge Place tries to revive and reinforce traditional mask-art in the age of funky-looking, avant-garde arts. Quaint yet beautiful, strange yet eye-grabbing, the line of masks is worth every purchase for those inquisitively glancing curators. The show will go on till March 23 from 2 pm to 7 pm daily, except the Sundays.
Speaking about the exhibition, the Design Studio proprietor, art-collector and historian Urvashi Basu said, “Over time, we have noticed that mask craft is intensely gaining its eminence in interior decor. For wall furnishings, different masks from different countries are put to a decorative use, whether in living rooms or studies and even in spacious dining halls.”
Sharing the genesis of the Mukhosh story, she adds, “There is a market for property beautification, be it an apartment-chamber in residential complexes or an office-premise. Designers are appointed to enhance and embellish an empty space, wherever available.
Theme-based motifs, paintings, texturings and paddings are explicitly done in modern-day flats. The walls, which are without windows, are conveniently decked up with wall-hangings, book-shelves or conspicuous showpieces. Among them, masks find a prominent place in contemporary ornamentation. Thus, the idea behind exhibiting masks germinated.”
Masks of different places are being featured in the exhibited oeuvre. Besides Shantiniketan and the North-South Dinajpur districts of West Bengal, the popular mask-art of Ghana from far Africa has also been imported for this exposition. Carved out of wood, bamboo and ceramic, the masks tell a tale of their own through sounds of silence. “You see, China is another country which is too hugely popular with the mask-craft. And we have a very strong populace of Chinese community right here in City of Joy in the well-known Tangra area. The age-old dragon-dance is performed with large, life-size variegated masks as part of a cultural-cavalcade or to usher in the colourful Chinese New Year celebration. We have plans to include Chinese masks in our next edition of mask exhibition. We’ll also incorporate the Chhau (mask-dance) of Purulia from within the state and rope in the indigenous mask-makers for a live-demo,” avows Basu.
In West Bengal, masks have been extensively used as an important part of the theatre-paraphernalia and are normally donned at stage performances. The traditional Chhau dancers of Purulia wear masks to depict the parts that dancers portray in a spectacle. So is the case with the masks employed by the Gambhira dancers of Malda district in Bengal. Chiselled out of wood, these masks primarily describe characters from the conventional Hindu mythology.
However, two traditional craftsmen from Dakshin (South) Dinajpur —Tulu and Biplab Sarkar — have recently held a live-demonstration of mask-making at the studio for over four days. Proficient in their chosen field of application, both immensely talented brothers are adeptly trained and guided by their father Shankar Sarkar, who is an adroit craftsman himself. The price-band of their dexterously moulded masks ranges between `300 to `3,500.
The mask or a mukhauta is an object worn over to hide the true entity of a person and in the process, ends up representing something else. This essential characteristic of hiding and concealing personalities or moods in the guise of its own features is common to all masks. As cultural objects, masks or naqabs have been used all over the world during defining moments and periods in history and have been as varied in appearances as in their usage and symbolism.
The use of masks in rituals or ceremonies is quite an ancient practice worldwide. Although masks can also be worn for protection during hunting or while playing sports or in feasts, fighting wars or simply being flaunted as an adornment, some ceremonial or decorative masks are specifically designed for an exclusive purpose of use in religious rites and for indoor/outdoor decorations.
Masks can be designed into numerous varieties — from the simplest of crude “false faces” held by a handle to those complete head-coverings with ingenious movable parts and hidden faces. Made of a medley of utility substances, masks often come in woods, metals, shells, fibres, ivory, clay, horn, stone, feathers, leather, papier mache, furs, paper, cloth and cornhusk varieties.
In the famous folk-theatre form of Yakshagana — which is an amalgam of dance, music, dialogue, costumes, make-up and stage techniques with its unique style and content — some interesting head-gears and masks are used to delight the audiences. This entertaining theatrical presentation is mainly played in the coastal districts and Malenadu regions of the state of Karnataka in down South. Traditionally, Yakshagana is performed the whole night till the sunrise next morning. Even in Kerala’s provincial dance-form — Kathakali — a combination of loud make-up on the countenances of male-dancers along with intricate gears atop their heads conforms to an eye-arresting style indeed.
But is the art finding favour with the next-generation artisans or is it already losing its sheen? “Well, it is a difficult task to sustain the art all the year round, except towards the tail-end when national-level exhibitions or handicrafts fair take place all across. The status is seemingly dwindling as the current-day children seldom show any interest to take it up as a future occupation,” she notes. “Due to lack of proper exposure, economic support and recognition, mask-art is suffering a grave crisis which is hard to overcome. Even if it is a family trade for many, whose forefathers had initiated it aeons ago, the zeal and means to foster and nurture this malnourished craft is visibly absent. In want of a course to channelise resources and get a better bargain, the sole breadwinners now have to look for other avenues to earn their bread and butter and feed several stomachs at home,” she rues.

Post new comment

<form action="/comment/reply/226669" accept-charset="UTF-8" method="post" id="comment-form"> <div><div class="form-item" id="edit-name-wrapper"> <label for="edit-name">Your name: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="60" name="name" id="edit-name" size="30" value="Reader" class="form-text required" /> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-mail-wrapper"> <label for="edit-mail">E-Mail Address: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="64" name="mail" id="edit-mail" size="30" value="" class="form-text required" /> <div class="description">The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.</div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-comment-wrapper"> <label for="edit-comment">Comment: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <textarea cols="60" rows="15" name="comment" id="edit-comment" class="form-textarea resizable required"></textarea> </div> <fieldset class=" collapsible collapsed"><legend>Input format</legend><div class="form-item" id="edit-format-1-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-1"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-1" name="format" value="1" class="form-radio" /> Filtered HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Allowed HTML tags: &lt;a&gt; &lt;em&gt; &lt;strong&gt; &lt;cite&gt; &lt;code&gt; &lt;ul&gt; &lt;ol&gt; &lt;li&gt; &lt;dl&gt; &lt;dt&gt; &lt;dd&gt;</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-format-2-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-2"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-2" name="format" value="2" checked="checked" class="form-radio" /> Full HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> </fieldset> <input type="hidden" name="form_build_id" id="form-ee29c2f62376d5c178c39f7ad67a830c" value="form-ee29c2f62376d5c178c39f7ad67a830c" /> <input type="hidden" name="form_id" id="edit-comment-form" value="comment_form" /> <fieldset class="captcha"><legend>CAPTCHA</legend><div class="description">This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.</div><input type="hidden" name="captcha_sid" id="edit-captcha-sid" value="81535833" /> <input type="hidden" name="captcha_response" id="edit-captcha-response" value="NLPCaptcha" /> <div class="form-item"> <div id="nlpcaptcha_ajax_api_container"><script type="text/javascript"> var NLPOptions = {key:'c4823cf77a2526b0fba265e2af75c1b5'};</script><script type="text/javascript" src="http://call.nlpcaptcha.in/js/captcha.js" ></script></div> </div> </fieldset> <span class="btn-left"><span class="btn-right"><input type="submit" name="op" id="edit-submit" value="Save" class="form-submit" /></span></span> </div></form>

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.