South America

Metal monkey mask from Bolivia

Q: Bob, thought you might enjoy this Bolivian mask I picked up a while back for $90 online. It’s painted tin, as many of the Bolivian carnival masks are, but it’s an unusual monkey form that I’ve never seen before. Dan, 1570

A: Bolivian celebrations feature all kinds of masks. Probably the condor is their most common animal mask, and for almost 50 years of collecting I have seen others. Masks are an essential part of Bolivian celebrations, allowing dancers to adopt the personalities which populate the country’s myths and legends. Demons, dragons and angels join representations of real-world creatures like birds, bears and beavers.

Most interesting are the masks based on characters from Bolivian history, such as caricatures of Spanish matadors, and African slaves brought over to work in Potosí’s mines. The latter are depicted with bulging eyes and extended tongues — conditions which the slaves, who suffered terribly with altitude sickness, were actually afflicted with.

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