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A visual research account run by Atlanta-based artist Jym Davis, @_false_face eclectically archives masks and costumes that conceal from across the world. Spanning expansive geographies and time periods, the Instagram page offers a fascinating glimpse into the timeless practice. Davis himself creates masks, reflecting the regions in which they were made. His work explores his interest in conservation, environmentalism, and otherworldly landscapes. “As I work the masks begin to take on the personality of the terrain and the animals that inhabit the area,” he explains.

Throughout history, masks have allowed wearers to transcend their physical nature and take on the identity of another creature, ancestor, or supernatural force. Many ancient masks are primarily associated with ceremonies that have religious and social significance or are concerned with funerary customs, fertility rites, or the curing of sickness. Some masks were, and still are, used on festive occasions or to portray characters in a dramatic performance and in re-enactments of mythological events, while others are used for warfare and as protective devices in particular activities or during extreme weather.

Masks have served an important role as a means of discipline and have long been used to admonish. Common in China, Africa, Oceania, and North America, admonitory masks usually completely cover the features of the wearer. In many cultures throughout the world, a judge wore a mask to protect him or her from future recriminations. In this instance, the mask represents a traditionally sanctioned spirit from the past who assumes responsibility for the decision levied on the culprit.

In a performance context, masks often express the otherworldliness of the spirits and make visible what is invisible. In both Europe and Asia, there is a tradition of covering the face with a mask for theatrical productions. Festivals in ancient Greece used masks, made from linen, cork, or lightweight wood, for both dramas and comedies. For tragedies, masks depicted highborn men and women as well as gods; and interestingly, animal, bird, and insect masks were only found in comedies.

In recent times, the intersection of pop culture and luxury fashion has given the face mask a renewed global and mainstream stage. Recent attention grabbing moments include Kanye’s bejewelled Maison Margiela masks, Rihanna’s head-to-toe crystallised Gucci bodysuit, and A$AP Rocky’s ski mask worn to a Y-3 runway show. Notable pop culture precursors such as MF DOOM, Daft Punk and even Sia can be credited for using masks as a vital element of their persona, focussing public attention on their art, but also evoking further fascination and enigma. Embracing a breadth of cultural contexts, @_false_face’s rich archive is both a useful and thoroughly entertaining resource to peruse.


Feature image: Elephant masks by the Bamileke people, Cameroon (via @_false_face)

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