Masks from Many Times and Many Places
Exhibition Curator: Efrat Nathan
Associate curator: Smadar Gafni
This space brings the public together with masks from the Israel Museum’s diverse collections. Most served a ritual purpose and were believed to provide protection, healing, or strength in times of hardship. In many cultures, masks played an important role in rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, in funerary rites marking the transition from this world to the next, and in festivals celebrating changes of season and other cosmic events.
The power of the mask lies in the wearer's ability to take on another identity. During ritual ceremonies, the masquerading dancer draws the mask's spirit into his body, until they fuse together and the dancer is transformed into another being. Thus masks fulfill our need to give concrete form to hidden forces at work in the world – or, in more psychological terms, to latent elements of our own personality. The spirits in masks are like visitors from another reality that have come to interact with the inhabitants of this world. Since the mask comes to life when worn, it is both animate and inanimate, material and spiritual, simultaneously fascinating and forbidding.
Although masks now play less of a cultic role than they once did, their universal meaning remains. The first "mask" we encounter is our mother's face, inseparable from the care she gives us; the next is our own face, discovered in the mirror, manifesting our essence and soul. Then we encounter the masks of the people around us, and sometimes we also perceive masks of spirits in inanimate objects.
The artworks displayed on the wall comment on our relationship with the mask, while selected films show masks in action. A skull-like prehistoric stone mask, dating back 9,000 years and extremely rare, is exhibited in the adjoining room. This striking yet enigmatic face seals the exhibition, a reflection of the many aspects of life and death contained in every mask.