Unveiling the mask

Unique Hobbies

Every mask has a story to tell, whichever tribe or place it comes from. For Deena Nagesh, a homemaker who lives in Koramangala, collecting masks started as a hobby because of their aesthetic appeal.

Deena has been collecting masks for 15 years and these masks are from places like East and South Africa, Tongo, Samoa, Ethiopia, Hong Kong and many islands. Ask her about the history of these masks, and she’s quick to add that each differ in rituals and manner. “Some are worn by the headmen of tribes and others are used in rituals or celebrations in certain regions. The purpose differs,” she says.

Her elder son Shravan, an engineering student, adds, “There are some which are from the Pacific Islands, where black magic and superstitions are followed.”

Talking about the artistic look of the masks, Deena adds that she has masks from Africa, which have detailing on them. “There are masks which have shells for eyes and beads for earrings. These look really pretty. There are some which have very intricate work with paints like earth pigments, charcoal and ash. There are also some which are plain and simple too,” she details.

So did she pay a fortune to get these? Deena says she doesn’t recollect the prices of the masks as she paid for them in local currency many years back. “But it is a costly affair,” she smiles and says.

Deena and her family have stayed in Africa and Australia for a few years. “I used to collect different souvenirs from different places. But masks, despite being souvenirs, are more valuable and unique,” she says. Her collection consists of masks which are as small as 15-centimetres and as big as two metres in length. Most of her collection is spread across the living room and some are kept packed since they are too big to be displayed. “I intend to move soon and will be looking for a space where I can display the entire collection,” she says.

Detailing about the variety of materials they are made of, Deena says that most of the masks are made of mahogany, African ebony and mango wood. “I have two unique masks, one made of silver, and the other made of a mix of copper and brass,” she says.

Keeping the masks safe and well-maintained is not a big task, says Deena.

“The best thing to do is to keep these out in the open
and not packed. Just proper dusting and cleaning with a dry cloth is required to keep the masks in good condition,” she says.

Deena’s family and friends are aware about this unique interest of hers and come to see the collection. “Many suggest that I should also collect masks from Kerala, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. I’m always open to expanding my collection,” she says. She adds that it’s fun to see the faces of the visitors as they stand stunned by the detailing. “These are unique items and they do realise that. Many often ask several questions about them,” she says.

Deena says that her family has been very supportive about her hobby. “I seek advice and help from my husband and two sons on how to display these best and suggestions about keeping the masks well,” she says.

Her favourite mask in the lot is one which has tribal painting and art work on it. “There’s a lot of skilled workmanship on the mask and the details of the tribes can also be figured from these masks,” she says.

Ask her if there are any places where she wants masks from, and she says, “I am always looking for additions to my collection. I would be particularly excited about masks from The Cook Islands and Bora Bora Islands.”

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