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History behind the piece

Pre-Hispanic masks have been found not only in archaeological excavations, but also in representations embodied in ceramics and textiles from cultures such as Mochica, Chimú and Paracas. In the cave paintings of Sumbay in Arequipa, the oldest references on the use of them in Peru have been collected, and it is known that the vicuña hunters of the pre-ceramic period, around 2000 B.C., would have carried out this activity masked to discreetly approach its prey. It becomes clear then, that the mask is part of the cultural heritage of man and that he has not been detached from it for thousands of years.

In the Andes, its manifestation does not constitute an exotic, picturesque, much less archaic practice; on the contrary, it reflects a sensible way of contextualizing historical and social references, in order to later integrate them into the current reality of the population. That is why its importance resides mainly in its capacity not only to build, but also to affirm the cultural identity of a community. In more recent decades, studies on masks have also begun to emphasize the more dynamic aspect of this traditional expression, highlighting its relevance as a mediator for specific groups to express themselves and find a space for dialogue and participation within larger contexts.

Regarding the uses of the mask, the most representative would undoubtedly be the one linked to a ritual: dance. In Paucartambo, Cusco, the place where this piece originates, between July 15 and 19 of each year a mixture of traditions, dances and troupes are celebrated which constitute the ritual, mythical and social context in which hundreds of masked people interact during the 5 days in which the worship of the Virgen del Carmen takes place, one of the most important and notable folkloric events in Peru. 

Although the Virgen del Carmen is a figure of Spanish origin, when the indigenous population, who constituted the majority, initially introduced dances and indigenous customs to the feast of the saint of the town, such a shift was generated, which ended with seize the worship itself. The extravagant costumes and masks together with the music, the complexity of the choreographies, the organization and discipline of the dancers and their troupes, can be considered as the causes and the means through which the history and identity of Paucartambo are explained and build. This mask, in particular, is a piece that preserves the traditional characteristics of shape, color, decoration and size typical of the masks attributed to the Maq'tas troupe, an example also considered an expression of ethnographic art1.

The maqt’a symbolizes the young paucartambino farmer. The peculiarities of him are a large smile, the aquiline nose and the pronounced cheekbones characteristic of an indigenous physiognomy. Unlike the characters of other dance troupes, the maqt’a is a figure that is not subordinate to any authority, which emphasizes his free and independent character. He does not have a position, nor does he have a musical group to accompany him. During the festival, many maqt’as remain autonomous by walking the streets and making jokes with the townspeople, speaking in Quechua and always in falsetto, thus highlighting pure jocularity.

In Cuzco the making of masks is linked to the art of imagery and in Paucartambo there are numerous workshops of artisans dedicated to making masks in different techniques and materials. For the creation of this piece, the fiberglass modeling technique was used, a method that is achieved by making an original clay mask that will serve as a mold and on which the fibers will rest in layers to form the replica. Then, after the modeling process is finished, the mask is given the background color and later, the details of the face will be painted on top and some additional decorative element will be added, if necessary.

This specific mask, along with nearly twenty other specimens, plays within the set of elements that make up the festival of the Virgen del Carmen, the most outstanding and representative aspect of it. Without them, the party is just a revelry. With the masks the festival enters a path beyond reality, with old presences that give the festival its unforgettable transcendent character.

Origin: Paucartambo, Cusco
Measurements: 22,5 cm x 16,5 cm x 15,5 cm
Condition: Excellent
SKU: 0403-35

$ 248.00

1Ethnographic Art is considered to be that production made by the member of an ethnic group, made exclusively for personal or communal use, and that necessarily carries a cultural load of the people to which it belongs.