For centuries, the indigenous people of Guatemala and Mexico have produced extraordinary masks that show us the varied and colorful expressions of their culture. They have played an essential part in Guatemalan and Mexican ritual, their dances, drama, fertility rites, planting cycles and religious ceremonies.
Their primary intention was not to conceal. Indeed, rather than being an object behind which the wearer might remain invisible, a mask became the vehicle through which a totally different entity could emerge and be revealed. As if magically transformed, the wearer assumed the role of another being; perhaps that role was of a deity, an animal, a historical hero, a revered ancestor, an angel, a bird, a devil or a child. In Mexico, the tradition of mask carving, pageantry and ceremonial dancing were practiced long before the arrival of the Spanish. Following the Spanish conquest of the Americas, different mask traditions took root, and with the collapse of religious empires new traditions were born. Catholic priests working with indigenous communities instructed Indians to join into annual Catholic celebrations, in which various Saints and Feast days for the Virgin Mary were introduced. In Mexico, various masked dancers performed the Dance of the Christians and Moors, a popular story in which the Moors were defeated by the Christians. In Guatemala, performers play the roles of Hernan Cortes, Pedro de Alvarado, Don Pedro Portocarrero and La Malinche, in the infamous, but ever popular Dance of the Conquest.
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