Would you want to wear a mask made of stone? This mask, from Mexico, is much too heavy to wear. It was probably put on top of a statue that was dressed up to look like a god or ancestor. When it was made it might have been decorated with shells and turquoise.
Stone mask, Teotihuacan culture, Mexico, 150 BC – AD 700
Kings of the jungle
Masks like this one, from Cameroon, usually show kings. You can tell this king is very well fed – look at his big full cheeks! Cameroon has many kingdoms, and it is believed that the kings can change into powerful animals, usually elephants, buffaloes or leopards.
Wooden mask, Cameroon, probably early 20th century
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf-mask?
This wolf mask is from the Tlingit people in Northwest America. It was worn at feasts and dances to celebrate events like births, marriages and funerals. It is made of painted wood and was worn with clothing made from tree bark and mountain goat wool.
Painted wooden mask in the form of a wolf, Alaska, before 1867
This mask was an important part of an ancient Egyptian mummy. It was placed on the mummy's head. It doesn’t show how the person really looked, but how they wanted to look in the afterlife. The mask is made from layers of linen coated with plaster.
Mummy mask, Egypt, late 1st century BC – early 1st century AD
This mask of a young woman has black teeth and false eyebrows painted at the top of the forehead! It was used in Japanese theatre performances. The person wearing the mask would move their head in different ways to show different emotions.
Nō mask of a young woman, Japan, 18th – 19th century
A child-eating giant of the forest
This scary mask could give you nightmares. It shows Dzoonokwa, a giant of the forest who is also known as the Wild Woman of the Woods. She eats children! Her mouth is rounded so that whoever is wearing the mask can frighten people by shouting ‘Ho, ho’.
Mask of Dzoonokwa, North America, 19th century AD
Masks like this one are still used today to help sick people in Sri Lanka. The masks show a disease or illness – experts think this one represents fever. The person wearing the mask performs a show, then disappears. This means the illness should be gone.
Wooden demon mask, Sri Lanka, late 19th – early 20th century
If you’re happy (or sad) and you know it
Can you see the two different faces in this picture? One is funny and one is sad. They stand for the two sorts of play – comedy and tragedy – that were put on in ancient Greece. All the actorswore masks, so people sitting far away could tell who was who.
Marble relief with theatre masks, Roman, second century AD
This type of mask was made just after a person died. Some death masks were made with thin layers of plaster. Others, like this one, were made with wax. Important and wealthy people would have a death mask made so others would remember how they looked.
Wax mask of Oliver Cromwell, England, between 1658 and 1753
A devilish dance
This mask is worn for the Diablada (Dance of the Devils) at carnival celebrations in Bolivia. The dance comes from stories of the tio, a devil who lived in the mines. The miners made offerings to the tio to keep them from accidents. The mask is decorated with animals like toads and snakes, believed to be linked to healing.
Diablada dance mask, Oruro, Bolivia, 1985