Object: Dance Mask

Figure 1     Balinese Dance Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Balinese Dance Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1958/24/1
Indonesia: Island of Bali
Materials: Wood and paint

This carved, wooden dance mask, known as a topeng mask, is from the island of Bali in Indonesia. It represents a devil figure, with flapping ears, a movable jaw, large canines, exaggerated eyebrows and eyes, and an attached moustache and beard.

Figure 2    Map of the island of Bali in Indonesia

Figure 2 Map of the island of Bali in Indonesia

Topeng masks are used in a variety of dances referred to as topeng dances, a dramatic form of Indonesian dance that originated in the 17th Century. It is believed that the use of masks such as this devil mask is related to the cult of the ancestors, which considers dancers the interpreters of the gods.

These traditional masks often include several characters: “Topeng Manis (the typical refined hero character), “Topeng Kras (the violent, authoritarian character representing power), “Topeng Tua (an old man who may joke and draw-out the audience), “Penasar” (a buffoon or jokester who often acts as the narrator), and “Dalem” (a sovereign or leader). There is also usually an element of evil, represented through a demon, witch, or other character that must be overcome to achieve the happy ending in the story. This devil mask may represent a character such as Rangda, a fanged child-eating demon from Balinese mythology. In topeng dances, there is an attempt to include all aspects of human nature such as the dualities of the sacred and the profane or beauty and ugliness.

Figure 3    Rangda mask and costume

Figure 3 Rangda mask and costume

A typical performance alternates between speaking and non-speaking characters, and can include dance and fight sequences as well as special effects (sometimes provided by the gamelan, a traditional musical instrument). It is almost always wrapped-up by a series of comic characters introducing their own views, even including current events or local gossip to amuse the audience.

There is another style of Balinese mask in the Ethnology collection (Click this link to view: E/1958/24/3). What kind of character do you think it represents? Why? Let us know in the comments or send us a note via e-mail!

 

Take a look at this video describing the history of Bali and how it has influenced performance and art on this fascinating island:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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