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All about masks and making masks
Masks have always been used since ancient times, where they lent an air of drama to theatrical performances and heightened the intensity of religious rituals. All the world's societies use masks in one form or another. You'll find masks used today in the arts, as protective gear in industries and in medical services, and as cultural symbols in museums and in sports.

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Halloween masks

Halloween masks are all the rage with adults, who have reclaimed the holiday as their own season to enjoy. Halloween masks range from the usual vampire outfits, ogre heads and pumpkins to more topical designs.

Halloween mask designers have unleashed their takes on sci-fi characters, both villains and heroes, superheroes, alien warriors, ET, and the Grim Reaper, a skull design. An modern offshoot of the Grim Reaper are the hooded screaming ghouls made popular by Wes Craven's films. Slasher movies and titles like the Bride of Chucky have also inspired other Halloween-themed masks.

Other-worldly creatures like werewolves and tree sprites, raven's beak and orcs are also in demand from partygoers, many of them going to themed events where novelty and shock value are the norm. Gothic-themed masks appeal to young children and older kids of all ages alike.

When did Halloween become a time for costumes and masks?

The tradition of wearing something ghoulish over one's face started with the ancient Celts, the originators of the holiday. The Celts made use of animals skins and hollowed-out heads as they danced around a bonfire during their new year celebrations, which used to be the last days of October. This custom was supposed to protect the wearers from being recognized by spirits that are released from their bonds and roam the earth at the time the season changes from warmth and light to dark and cold. When the borders between the living world and the afterlife blur, the ghosts of the dead will be searching for bodies to possess.

By taking on the identity of creatures and concepts that are regarded as non-human, otherworldly or supernatural, the wearers of Halloween masks subconsciously mark themselves with the essence of the Other, making them a little less strange, which eases psychosocial tension. The only other time in the year when traditional and strict boundaries of normality and goodness can be broken is during Carnival season right before Lent. For this reason, Halloween masks frequently take on the themes of gore and horror.

Masks for Mardi Gras!

Pretty soon, it'll be the Mardi Gras season again, and what's a more wonderful way out there to join in the fun than by donning your own party mask? Mardi Gras and masks are almost synonymous, completely complementing each other. Adding a mysterious patina to one's identity whilst in the middle of strangers makes gatherings and conversations all the more exciting for everyone. Score points with the right adornments for your Mardi Gras mask!

Why Masks and Mardi Gras Mix

Mardi Gras celebrations are times you want pizzazz and more pizzazz around you, to lighten up the air and make it easy for everyone to hang loose and let down their hair. Getting away with riotous debauchery is what makes the Mardi Gras something to look forward every year. In New Orleans, home of the most popular Mardi Gras festival, things got so wild for conservatives that masks were banned for a long time!

Masks make the compleat costume for anyone who wants to dash in and out of the mad street scene. In parades and marches, masks are a good way of identifying contigents and standing out from the crowd. A fabulous mask is something to keep and remember long after the event, or better yet, something to update and reused next time a party's on.

In Sydney, the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the most glam times to put on a costume and a face mask to join in the revelry. The parade is always a beauty, rain or shine, with contigents of dancers, scooters and motorised floats. After the parade, have fun with the city's parties that get bigger every year.

More about Mardi Gras Masks

It's easy to make a lavish Mardi Gras mask using a simple face mask template and adding on paint, feathers and matching boas, sequins, ribbons and glitter glue. Ceramic face masks can take on glossy blushes of pink on white paint, topped with a half-cut of a tophat. For a more tropical carnival feel, take out a half-mask and surround it with a burst of peacock and coloured ostrich feathers. Faux fur also looks great around the eyepiece! Just make sure your eyes have a clear field when looking out of your Mardi Gras mask. You wouldn't want to be bumping into people just because of a one-pound beauty fitted around your head. All the same, add an extra dash of caution to compensate for your mask's limited view field.

Popular Mardi Gras mask themes are: the aforementioned Greek theatre-inspired and tropicalia versions, the classic court jester with her multi-pointed bell cap, the provocative half-mask, animal-themed masks such as cats, lions and bunnies, variations of the pirate patch, inspired pieces from movies, and the Red Devil. Try on an entire gorilla head with your ball costume; the wackier the combination, the better! If you're into medieval stuff, how about a knight's helmet or a knave's sackcloth? Mardi Gras masks can take on any material and story, so feel free to order online or downtown, or even make one yourself for the right personal touch!

Unmasking the Performance: Bands and their Masks

Masks and heavy metal: one or maybe two bands come to mind whenever the talk shifts to this topic. And no, they're not party jokes! Anyone seriously into metal rock would have an idea about the stuff behind the masks. In some interviews, these bands have had their piece about mask-wearing and what it does for their music.

To any passing observer, these heavy metal masks are definitely not something you would want little children to see: simulated depictions of dead flesh, preyed-on animals frozen in a grimace brought rigor mortis, slash mark scars, bloated veins and staple tracks. Spiked scarecrows, robotechno heads and bleeding clowns look tame in comparison. Add to that tribal warrior markings and a lot of hardcore imagery. One can't help but think of them like modern-day totems; a visualisation of the intense energy that goes into their music.

As for those in the mask-bands, the masks are vital to their identity as a group; one band's members say they launched (and were the first) with the idea because they needed to find a way to break clean from all their former bands. Another reason that comes out relates to their continuing personal journeys and explorations into their music: a new album may be marked with a new series of masks, representing changes in their personality, or battles won and new ones to fight. Big masks for large egos; gore and shock to go with their guttural chords. Authentic rage for life with more than a fair share of pain wins over saccharine, bubbly emotional candy anytime.

Whether it's a musician or any other sort of artist wearing it, masks are a paradox: it hides so that more can be revealed. The classics and Zen types prefer blank masks to be completely devoid of personal emotions that go beyond their material. What the original wearers of the death masks on stage seek is not that far away; they're also a way to create distance from reality as we ordinarily know it. It's not always easy to capture what goes on beneath the mask, but it helps some to find the truest voice inside them, even in the middle of eveyone else's din and patter.


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