The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Height: 57.000 cm
Width: 80.000 cm
Depth: 62.000 cm
AOA 1985 Am32.3
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Diablada dance mask
From Oruro, Bolivia, 1985
Masks like this are made for the Diablada (Dance of the Devils) that is part of the annual carnival celebration in Oruro in the Bolivian Andes.
The Diablada was probably inspired by native Bolivian tales of the tio (devil) in the mine, who embodied the life-giving but dangerous power of the inner earth. After the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century, the local inhabitants were forced by their conquerors to work in the silver and tin mines where they faced great hardship and danger. The miners made offerings to the tio to avoid accidents and to help them find rich veins of precious metals.
Miners dressed as diablos (devils) first appeared in the Oruro carnival in the 1790s. This devil mask was commissioned from Felix (Freddy) Aguilar in 1985. It is a copy of one that was designed, commissioned and danced by Jorge Vargas in 1984. In creating the mask, Vargas drew on a long history, during which makers created ever more elaborate masks, culminating in fantastically ornate examples like his. The writhing reptiles, toads, snakes and lizards on the masks derive from traditional healing practices connected with earthly fertility.
F. Nock, 'The maskmakers of Oruro' in Mascaras De Los Andes Bolivian (University of Washington Press, 1994)