As you approach, you’d swear that you’re about to encounter Johnny Depp who has just slipped for his next role into a Day of the Dead-inspired costume. In a glass case before you, an ominous looking piece of headgear is topped with a small skull, and banners jut out from its sides, and from a breastplate as well. Made from cotton, silk, leather, and feathers, the ensemble is, in fact, an early 20th century Mongolian shaman’s costume called Oracle’s Attire.
And that dramatic attire is just one of about 100 costumes and masks that are currently on display at New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art. Especially for anyone with an Asia trip on the horizon, the exhibit Becoming Another: The Power of Masks is a great introduction to elegant and mysterious cultural objects that don’t often get unveiled in the states.
A set of small masks that represent jokers show what richly detailed and expressive work mask makers have historically created out of just wood or papier-mâché, from a jester’s eyes looking askew to the exaggerated nose on another. The face on the wooden Horned Mask figure used in Japanese Noh theater has the eerily melted look of a modern horror film character.
A Bhutanese papier-mâché deer with bulging eyes and bared teeth looks at once vicious and gorgeous. The expression on the stunning early-20th century Mongolian Begtse papier-mâché mask is fierce as well, yet made with delicate inlaid coral.
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