Masks are a fundamental part in several traditions around the world. They explain and help us recreate our beliefs and vision of the world; they are a window to our culture and are often loaded with symbolism. Of the many masks we may found throughout Latin America, one that is particularly beautiful is that of “La Diablada” (the devil’s dance), which represents a perfect example of cultural syncretism.
The epicenter of this tradition is the city of Oruro (Bolivia), but it is shared with the same devotion by the whole Aymara region (Bolivia, Altiplano of Peru and North of Chile). Being a pre-Hispanic tradition, the current geographical borders cannot (and should not) be used to segregate our people.
There is a lot of content to this tradition, but the fun fact here is that, originally, the masks were not intended to represent “evil” or the “devil”. In the pre-Hispanic Andean definition of the world there is neither “heaven” nor “hell”, therefore there’s no Satan or devil (this idea came later with the Spanish). Though Aymaras recognized a three-party division of the world, there was no notion of “evil” as we know it. According to their vision, there was just the Alajpacha (the upper world/deities), the Ukupacha (the world of the dead) and the Akapacha, where we live. The world of the dead is not necessarily “evil” since it is the way people reincorporate with mother earth (Pachamama). There are, however, entities, that live among the living and represent a link between these worlds; they may protect us (if we respect them and offer tribute) or punish us (if we do wrong)… they were often represented with animal features: feline fangs, horns, pig noses, etc. what would look not far from the occidental idea of a devil.
When the Spanish came along and imposed Christianity, their beliefs blend into the original dances (destined to different deities and mother earth) the devils took the role as such and new characters joined the tradition, most notably Gabriel Archangel who will defeat the devils!
Still, devils are not fully represented as “evil”, but rather playful characters… who will ultimately surrender to la Mamacha (virgin Marie).
Vol.3 The Awakening
There is A LOT of history and details to better explain La Diablada, this is just a taste to better understand the mask used for our Vol.3 (The Awakening) series. This is an interpretation (and collaboration) of Johanna a.k.a. La Chica de Las Mascaras, a Lima-based artist who helped us, through her art, to keep our very own tradition of masking our models…
Johanna: La Chica de las Mascaras
Something else to know about La Chica de las mascaras? She works with recycled materials to do her masks and promotes art and eco-friendly practices with kids in vulnerable areas of Lima through her NGO: Arte y Alma