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Masks Around the World

It is unclear exactly when humans first started using masks, but there is evidence of them even in prehistoric cave art. There are numerous styles of masks around the world, and they are used for a variety of purposes. Most began with a religious, ritualistic, and/or social purpose. Some masks are considered to be alive and possess great power, whereas others may mark a rite of passage, such as that from childhood to adulthood. Some funerary masks are used to help the spirit find the correct body, and others are meant to keep the spirit from possessing the body. In contemporary western society, masks are commonly used in role playing for theatrical or holiday festivities. The purposes of masks are numerous, but the human need for them is perhaps universal.

This online exhibit presents examples of masks from the Museum's ethnographic collections and demonstrates the wide variety of masks made and used throughout the world.

References and Related Links

Fenton, William N. The False Faces of the Iroquois. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987).

Lommel, Andreas. Masks: Their Meaning and Function. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972)

Mack, John (ed.) Masks: The Art of Expression. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994).

McClusky, Pamela. Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Seattle Art Museum, 2002).

Newton, Douglas. Crocodile and Cassowary: Religious Art of the Upper Sepik River, New Guinea. (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, The Museum of Primitive Art, 1971).

Ritzenthaler, Robert. Iroquois False-Face Masks. (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, NAPCO Graphic Arts, 1969).

Ulrich, George. Masks. Lore, vol. 39, no. 3, fall 1989, pp. 2-9 (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1996).

Bambara. (Lois E. Woods Museum, Norfolk State University)

Facing the mask. (Museum for African Art)

Diablada Dance.

Masks around the World exhibit prepared by Charmagne Thompson and Mary French, fall 2003.

North America

burial mask
burial mask

burial mask
burial mask

Africa

mask
mask

N'Tomo mask
N'Tomo mask

Asia

mask
mask

mask
mask

puppet mask
puppet mask

North America

Shaman's mask
mask

replica False Face mask
replica False Face mask

South America

Devil Dance mask
Devil Dance mask

mask
mask

Oceania

display mask
display mask

display mask
display mask

ceremonial mask
ceremonial mask


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