Friday, 18 March 2011

'Man is least himself when he talks in his own person, give him a mask and he'll tell you the truth.'

A Mexican wrestler's mask is with him for life. It stays with him through every single public appearance, it's his hallmark, his career tattoo. The mask is the tenuous and tantalising line between man and luchador, which is probably why I've fallen completely in love with them.
The designs are basic. They give off a crude, primal quality, owing to their original intention to pay homage to Aztec artisanship and steal some of its excitable flare which is always achieved most notably when less is more. Their lack of absolute character definition means the theatricalities in the ring always add and never subtract, but more importantly, it means that in this complex mythology of heroes and hellraisers, the audience can always expect the unexpected.

When I look at any mask in particular -and bear in mind, I have little knowledge of Lucha Libre in terms of characters or history and at this point can only appreciate it on a visual level- I see several different traits in contradiction of each other. I can love the predominantly dark, demonic masks with the jagged, tyrannical smiles because there are mischievous eyes and playful intentions to keep me sweet. Powerful bright colours and heroic silver and gold sheens can hold a dark side in a tight-lipped mouth or enraged eyes. Every single one of them could be a god of war or whimsy at any point. Every face has fun, fire and flare all at once. The masks are sacred. Pulling an opponent's mask off during a match is grounds for disqualification. Lucha Libre masks have made careers, they've made legends and they're now gaining major significance in Mexican politics and art. Their symbolic power beyond the ring is becoming a force for change and contemplation in a way American wrestling is yet to achieve. They have also succeeded in representing personal change. Sometimes a character's mask morphs over the years to signify a new gimmick, new moves, new allegiances and major events. At times a wrestler on the verge of retirement will demask at the end of the tournament to signify the death of his character. The anthropomorphism inherent in donning a mask made to symbolise a power animal, an ancient hero or an Aztec god makes way for the transitional and poetic act of leaving the identity behind and 'returning to earth' in front of an adoring crowd who've followed the journey with passion.
Santo only ever revealed his face briefly after retirement. He continued to wear his mask and was buried in it, and when you consider how it made him a fortune as a film star and a national hero, it's not surprising he had so much love for the simplistic silver disguise.
They can be beautiful, brutal and hilarious all at once. They're kitsch but they're classic, depending on your perspective. They're commonplace on street stalls outside Lucha Libre events and if you were a Mexican school boy at any point in the last century they were integral to your understanding of loyalty, bravery, deceit, passion and playground politics, yet to me they're exotic, intense and the emblematic talismans of a secret world.

13 comments:

Always Something said...

I recently wore a luchador mask at a party, and it was so amazing! For some reason I felt more confident. It was cool to know the history... lovely words!

hierophanta said...

Great post! - the title quote has me completely rocked

ediot said...

thanks for stopping by me so i could find you. this is a completely unique blog.
the masks are scary- i think.. ;)
will check out more of your posts now.
wish you a great week
x

Rue des Modèles said...

Great post. I'm not a fan of this but the mask are funny!

Jeans Please! said...

Bez oporu znalazłaby się na mojej głowie ;d

Janine▲ said...

Great post.
:)

Briana + Stephanie. said...

think mexican wrestling masks are the coolest! if you're ever in philadelphia there's a resturant called districto that has an entire wall of them!
xx

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Natasha A. said...

Thanks for the comment dear, love this post, love the topic :)

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Winnie said...

I find them really creepy but I love the enthusiasm that comes through in this post! Must be quite a lot of fun designing them!

chocandcinnamon said...

So interesting!
xx

Reflect and Fancy - Fashion Blog said...

very cool :)