Two dance masks exhibited in the Asia section
Description of these two dance masks by Marc Petit in Musée du quai Branly- La Collection (Skira Flammarion, 2009)
«Simplification of shapes, an expressive concentration imprinted with a strange ambiguity, mid-way between the serious and the grotesque, derision and fear: who would believe that these works originate from the Himalayas?
These impressive masks - male and female figures of a couple - come from the Middle Hills of Nepal.
Similar masks, dancing in pairs in pantomimes on the occasion of village seasonal festivals or ceremonies dedicated to ancestors, are still in use these days in various regions of Nepal. The mere sighting of these figures with exaggerated features gives rise to general hilarity among the spectators. But for the people of the Himalayas, laughing is not the opposite of seriousness; it bears a message, accompanies mythical stories, and passes on a moral message. Homeric, Rabelaisian, at times mixed with dread, this laugh is not the enemy of the sacred, it is an essential part of festivals just as in the olden days, in Old Europe, at the time of the rites of the Carnival.
Tribal arts of Nepal and its neighbouring areas were acknowledged quite late: It was only in the 1970s and the 1980s that representative works, collected initially by a handful of passionate art lovers, made their way onto the art market. One must admit that Nepal opened its doors to foreigners only quite recently, from the 1950s to be precise; the status of the village sculptors, tribals or people belonging to the lower castes, in the ladder of respectability prevalent in Nepalese society, was not such that it could retain the attention of the local elite, and, till today, few ethnologists have shown interest in objects whose sense and function, at least for the oldest among them, have been forgotten over the course of time and successive acculturations.
It is to be feared that henceforth the information gathered on the field can only give us a limited and compartmentalized access to knowledge related to objects belonging to ancient, pre-Hindu and pre-Buddhist layers, of tribal cultures whose traditional rituals, founded on the worship of ancestors and the worship of local deities whose identities have been lost over time, were gradually dethroned by the rituals of the dominant religions, different from truly shamanistic practices that are still alive among Indo-Nepalese populations or those with Tibetan affinities».