Category Archives: Masks

I’m off to Bali and Lombok.

This afternoon, my wife and I fly to Bali for 18 days of holiday.

Since we blew so much money last year, we thought we’d keep things financial down to a dull roar and go somewhere closer to home that is not so expensive.

Bali is to Australia, what Mexico is for Canadians. A place in the sun with a different culture and where everything costs less. Just like Mexico, Bali gets more than it’s fair share of ignorant tourists. As a matter of fact, I think it can be safely said that there a few nationalities who can be more obnoxious overseas than a drunken meathead from Oz.

Many people here in Australia will roll their eyes when you tell them you’re going to Bali. Most Australians automatically think of the Kuta beach area and its bars with Australians behaving badly and the incessant street peddlers. Bali is actually way more than Kuta and while parts of it are fully infested with us Aussies there are still plenty of beautiful places to get away from it all. To my mind, Bali is still one of the nicest places I’ve ever been to and the people are lovely, despite the fact that their home has been a tourist destination for the last 40 or so years.

I won’t be taking a computer, so that means I won’t be posting for the next couple of weeks. As a way to make amends, I’ve scheduled some older posts, that I’m sure some of my more recent visitors haven’t seen but might enjoy, to automatically show up again.

Champa ruins at My Son, Vietnam.

During our trip to Vietnam this year in September, my Wife and I visited “My Son”. My Son is a Hindu Champa Temple complex, 70 km southwest of Da Nang and it is a UNESCO world Heritage site.

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 It is thought that My Son was started in the 4th century AD, and the last stupas (dome-shaped monuments, used to house Buddhist relics or to commemorate significant facts of Buddhism) were built in the 14th century AD.  Although My Son started as a Hindu temple complex, archaeological work has shown that Buddhism had become the main religion in the area by the 10th century. 
 
The photograph below shows a stele (an upright stone or slab with an inscribed or sculptured surface, used as a monument) written in Pali, a literary language, written by Buddhist scholars.

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Unfortunately the Vietnam War took a heavy toll on this amazing place.  The Vietcong used the temple complex as an occasional base, and the Americans tried obliterating it with bombing, but without much success.  So they sent in a sapper (in the old days they were the military engineers who specialized in digging under castle walls to undermine them, now they destroy field fortifications with explosives) team by helicopter to blowup of the last remaining large buildings so that all one sees nowadays are heavily damaged piles of rubble where fairly well preserved buildings used to exist up until the mid-60s.

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To tell the truth there is not much left in My Son and I felt a certain amount of disappointment when I saw how little decorative art had been left at the site.  I guess most of its been put in museums to save it from being plundered.
 
One of the things that makes My Son quite interesting is the fact that they built their buildings of baked clay bricks and then carved their decoration on the completed buildings afterwards.

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 Most temples, one sees in Asia tend to be built out of stone, which have carvings, sculpted on to the outside of them.
 
One of the only reasons, one would go to dreary Da Nang is to see the Champa Museum there. 

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 It is in the museum, one can see all the best art works missing from the archaeological sites, in one place. 

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 It is also interesting to see displays at the Museum illustrating how widespread the Champa civilisation was.  The Champa controlled the southern part of Vietnam right up until the early 1800s when it was supplanted by the Chinese influenced Vietnamese culture from the North. 
 
The Champa civilisation was basically, an Indian influenced Hindu culture that reached as far as Bali in Indonesia.  The decorative arts of the Champa look very similar to Balinese art works such as the mask I bought in Bali, shown in the photo below.

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Masks for Christmas party. Sydney 2007

My wife and I went to a masquerade Christmas party last Saturday night and here’s some pictures of the masks we made for the event.

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My wife went as a Christmas beetle (a very colourful beetle that is common in the Sydney area at this time of year) and I went as Darth Rudolph.

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Because of the dark background at the party I’ve included a couple of shots of the masks on their own so they can be seen a little more clearly.

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The beetle mask was made of thin dense closed cell foam sandwiched with thin open cell foam, covered in two different layers of fabric on the carapace and wet look vinyl on the legs.

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Darth Rudolph was made of a converted hard hat and thin dense closed cell foam, covered with wet look vinyl covered material and lenes from a pair of children’s sunglasses. The red and green pieces are light emitting diodes.  The red diode on the snout flashed. The fur was fake fur.

Kwakiutl eagle mask

I used to live in Vancouver in the early 1980s and I’ve been back there three times since. Unlike most people I know who live in Vancouver, I’m not “over” First Nations design. Ever since I was aware of the art of the indigenous people of the American Northwest, I have loved the bold stylised forms they produce and I’ve wanted to own a mask from that area. Alas, the price of native masks has been out of my financial reach for years. First Nation’s masks can be bought in Gastown for as little as $400 CAD, but they are hideous pieces of crap. Very nasty. To buy a halfway decent mask one has to spend at least $2,000 – $3,000 CAD. If you want something really nice you are looking at between $8,000 – $25,000 CAD. At today’s rates the Canadian dollar is worth  $1.12 AUD, 92 cents US or .68 EUR.

Last year I was in Vancouver with my sister in Kitsilano near the corner of Alma and 4th when I came across what I think is a Kwakiutl eagle mask in a junk shop. 

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 The junk shop seemed to specialize in old salvaged door and furniture fittings.  There were a few masks, mostly of poor quality, strewn about the place as well. I’d almost given up hope of finding anything interesting when by chance I looked up and saw the eagle mask suspended on a wire with an eye screw, screwed into the top of it’s dusty head. I asked to have a closer look at the mask and noticed that not only had it been “used” a fair bit, it also had been completely painted rather than the partial painting that is practiced nowadays to show some of the original wood.

This led me to think that maybe it was made in the late seventies when there perhaps wasn’t as much attention paid to what the tourist market was demanding. The mask almost looks like it’s a prop for a movie but I doubt that it is, because the movie industry would go and rent something like a mask, rather than carve one out of wood from scratch. I also suspect that it was painted all over to disguise what wood (it is made of wood) it was made from, due to the fact that yellow cedar is the wood of choice.

Despite my thoughts about the paintwork, there was no doubting the beautiful proportions and design of the carving. I’d say, that it is without a doubt one of the best eagle masks I’ve ever seen anywhere at any price. I was shocked that the storekeeper only wanted $500 for it and then dropped the price down to $350! Since it was about a month before my birthday, my sister (bless her generous heart!) offered to pay half the asking price as a way of giving me a birthday present. So there you have it, I now have a fantastic eagle mask. I’m so happy to own such a beautiful object that I don’t care that it’s probably not “authentic”.

Moko (Maori face tattoo) Mask by John Collins.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to Maori design and have wanted to own some Maori sculpture. Last year My wife and I were in Auckland New Zealand on a stop over from a trip to the US and Mexico, so I thought it would be a good time to buy some Maori art.

I had foolishly assumed that buying a Maori wood carving would be simple. Firstly we went to the excellent Auckland Art Gallery to get a general feeling for the quality of traditional Maori art. After a couple of hours at the Art Gallery we went downtown and had a look in the various gift shops and galleries selling Maori carvings.

Chinese people, not born in New Zealand, who didn’t have a clue about what they were selling, owned most of the gift shops. A lot of what was presented to us was crudely carved and very expensive. To add insult to injury, the carvings, as poor as they were, were consistently handled in a very rough manner, further damaging them right before our eyes. Many of the storeowners seemed to be displaying an absolute contempt for the Maori carvings they were selling.

It can be argued that most indigenous art that is for sale, anywhere, tends to be “traditional” in that old designs are copied and there doesn’t seem to be mich room for innovation. In other words, much “native” art tends to be more about skillful craft than artistic expression.

After half a day of depressing traipsing from gift shop to gift shop I was about to give up any hope of buying any Maori art at all. Luckily we stumbled across a very small gallery called “Gallery Pacific“. The gallery’s main window had some local art glass and at first it didn’t catch our eye. Then my wife saw a beautiful Moko (Maori face tattoos) Mask by John Collins, carved from kauri that just knocked our socks off.

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It was so different and so much more interesting than anything else, Maori, we had seen. Inside there were a few even grander and more expressive pieces that were way out of our price range. After much deliberation we bought the Moko mask for three times more than the budget we had allocated for such a purchase.