29/5/12 – Death Masks: Australian’s Museum Collection

According to Margo DeMello, the ‘death mask’ defined certain facial features or characteristics of a deceased person, which were created with “wax and plaster”. DeMello also explains that are various spiritual or historical representations of the ‘death mask’ across different cultures. For example, Ancient European cultures also created ‘death masks’ during the renaissance period, which were used to identify a particular corpse.

Margo also highlight’s that ceremonies or funerals also included the ‘death masks’ and these particular masks were also used as a form of creative expression. one could argue that death is reproduced through manufactured materials and the mask also documents the presence as well as the absence of a person that no longer exists.

Laurie Lipton: Maskers, 2005

Halloween Costumes and Masks

MeMello’s interpretations of the ‘death masks’ also invited me to question the history behind Halloween costumes and masks. John Ankerberg, John Weldon & Dillon Burroughs argue that ‘masks and costumes’ were used to conceal a person’s identity during the festival, which allowed participants to initiate contact with other spirits without jeopardising their own confidentiality.

According to Ankerberg, Weldon and Burroughs “Halloween costumes may have originated with the Celtic Druid ceremonial participants, who wore animals heads  and skins in order to require strength of a particular animal” (J. Ankerberg, J. Weldon & D. Burroughs, 1996 p. 17)

Diane Arbus, (Title Unknown)

Ankerberg, Weldon and Dillon also mention ancient pagan beliefs, such as the Druid who is also described as the “lord of death”. Druid merged ‘evil spirits’ with animals as a form of punishment, which occurred on the last day of October. (J.Ankerberg, J.Weldon & D. Burroughs, 1996 p.12)

One could argue that Halloween costumes and masks have inspired contemporary art and popular culture. Artists such as Laurie Lipton and Diane Arbus also include grotesque masks into their work.

John Ankerberg, John Weldon & Dillon Burroughs. The Facts on Halloween.  Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1996 p. 12 -17

DeMello, Margo. Faces around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia of the Human Face.  California ABC – CLIO, LLC, 2012 p. 59 – 61

Laurie Lipton. “Bio.” Laurie Lipton, 2012 (Accessed 26/5/12)

Arbus, Diane. “The Photography of Diane Arbus.” (Accessed 28/5/12)

Image Citations:

Death Masks,

Laurie Lipton,

Diane Arbus,

2 responses to “Masks

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