One of the theories about the ethymology of the word “mask” states, that its origins come from the old Spanish phrase “más que la cara”—“more than the face” or “additional face.”

This theory beautifully encapsulates the essencial meaning of masks throughout human history: to aquire a second identity while hiding your own—protecting yourself from the outside world, or, on the contrary, expressing yourself.

However, the goals of using masks varied. In today’s study, we will go through the four ways we use masks, and see what Midjourney knows about masks.

Disclamer: Many of the masks depicted in this study are based on real-life prototypes that represent historical periods, religious beliefs, cultural phenomena, and the significance of ethnic identity. Please note that all these images were generated by a text-to-image AI and may not be an exact representation of the original items.

Ritualistic and Religious MASKS

The oldest discovered masks known to humankind date back more than 9,000 years. Unearthed in the Judean Desert and Hills, these limestone masks resemble human skulls with glaring ocular cavities and toothy maws.

These ancient artifacts are believed to be worn by shamans or tribal chiefs in ritual masquerades and used for ancestor worship, divination, and healing rituals.

Ritualistic purposes were at the foundation of the art of maskmaking from the dawn of times and across various cultures. Ritualistic masks held complex spiritual meanings, and were used for appealing to deities, warding off demons and malevolent spirits, or reenacting sacred narratives.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, intricately carved wooden masks are used in dances to connect with ancestral spirits. In ancient Egypt, the death masks made of solid gold and inlaid with semi-precious stones served a religious purpose, aiding the pharaoh's journey to the afterlife. Another example is wooden masks from ancient Japan's Noh Theater. Apart from representing various characters, including deities, demons, and ghosts, these hand-carved masks were believed to contain spiritual essence.

Social Status and Cultural Identity

In the 16th century, women used masks to protect their skin during travels, as pale skin was fashionable among the upper class, and tanning might have labeled them as commoners. Upper-class women, often known as "Blue blood," considered these masks a vital fashion accessory to maintain their flawless, pale complexion. These “vizards” covered the entire face, lacking a mouth opening, as they were secured by clenching the teeth over an inside button, rendering the wearer unable to speak during journeys.

The display of social status was (and still remains) another important motive of using masks. This includes the representations of one’s belonging to a certain social or political group, religion, culture, nationality, or ethnicity.

In Venice, masks were often worn during the Carnival to obscure one's identity, but the type of mask and material used could also indicate social status. For example, the "Bauta," often made of fine materials, was considered a mask for the elite. Similar to Egypt, In Ancient Mesopotamia around 3000 BCE, gold Sumerian death masks were often used in burial rituals for high-ranking individuals, signifying their elevated status even in death. And the members of the Zapatista movement in Mexico wear special kind of masks—to conceal their identities but also to symbolize their collective struggle against governmental oppression.

Artistic Expression

Whatever goals a mask serves, it is always an object of art.

Even practical, protective masks are designed by artists. But let's delve into the true artistic expression channeled through the art of mask-making.

For example, vibrant and colorful Lucha Libre masks, which reflect the theatrical and performative aspects of Mexican wrestling, have become cultural icons both in Mexico and worldwide. Serving to emphasize the wrestler's unique identity, these masks are excellent examples of masks as art pieces.

Exaggerated, with bold features and expressions, Commedia dell'Arte masks (originating in 16th-century Italy) were designed to facilitate immediate recognition of stock characters like Arlecchino, Pantalone, and Il Dottore. But they also stand as intricate works of art, capturing the essence of each role while contributing to the unique aesthetic of the performance.

And in New Orleans, Mardi Gras masks are often handmade and highly decorated, featuring feathers, beads, and sequins, and are considered works of art and objects of artistic pride, often displayed as such long after the celebrations are over.

Protective Masks

Apart from ritualistic, social, or artistic purposes, masks have always been practical tools of protection.

While contemporary protective masks often prioritize utility over aesthetics, history shows us that even these functional items can become canvases for artistic expression.

For instance, the Plague Doctor masks of the 17th century. Initially designed to shield physicians from contagion, these masks evolved over time, acquiring intricate embellishments that transformed them into cultural symbols of a specific era.

This enduring human impulse for self-expression manifests even in the most utilitarian objects. Just remember how, when protective masks recently became a mandatory health measure, they instantly transformed into canvases for artistic and social manifestation.

In Midjourney, utilitarian masks transform into art pieces, too. And if you think of Midjourney as of the reflection of our collective imagination, it perfectly proves that for us, a mask is rarely just a mask.

In Conclusion

Masks do more than just conceal; they have the transformative power to alter not just our external appearance but also our internal state.

Whether they're rooted in historical traditions, religious rituals, or modern-day culture, masks serve as conduits for metamorphosis. They enable us to embody different personas, from cartoon characters to ancient deities, and from political figures to mythical heroes. This psychological potency makes masks invaluable tool for creative expression, perfectly combining self-discovery and storytelling.

And to begin exploring this vast ocean of artistic possibilities... well—just start typing /imagine:

That's it for today. Thank you and stay tuned for more in-depth Midjourney studies!

Happy midjourneys,
— Librarian

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All samples are produced by Midlibrary team using Midjourney AI (if not stated otherwise). Naturally, they are not representative of real artists' works/real-world prototypes.

We'll be grateful for shares and backlinks!

Ver. 2.8.3

Midlibrary by
Midlibrary.
Ithell Colquhoun
Andrei Kovalev's Midlibrary

All samples are produced by Midlibrary team using Midjourney AI (if not stated otherwise). Naturally, they are not representative of real artists' works/real-world prototypes.

We'll be grateful for shares and backlinks!

Ver. 2.8.3

Midlibrary by
Midlibrary.
Ithell Colquhoun
Andrei Kovalev's Midlibrary
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