Book Review: Mexico: Masks/Rituals
Bright orange rags drape over wide-brimmed hats, atop the bright masks covering the person’s face. Bits of ribbon make up the skirts that hang just high enough to allow the old boots, adorned with dusty bells, to peek out from underneath. Hidden behind the unconventional fabrics are members from various Mexican indigenous groups, all captured by Phyllis Galembo in Mexico: Masks/Rituals.
Going against the modern consumerist nature of society that is prone to stripping the exotic of its meaning and turning it into an exhibition, Galembo attempts to recover the historical significance behind the masks and costumes of the native people in Mexico. Delving into the ritualistic aspects of the native Mestizo, Galembo helps to retrieve a deeper appreciation for the transculturation of the natives.
Mestizo is the convergence of two communities: the indigenous Mesoamericans and the European Spaniards. Donning large crosses on headdresses above painted skeleton masks, this culture beautifully combines the legacy of the ancient Aztecs with elements of the Catholic Anglo-Saxons. Galembo captures the intensity of the communities and their customs, exploring the depths of the rituals, studying every intricacy of the costumes, allowing the native people to dive into the complexities of their culture.
Standing somber, many of Galembo’s models attempt to portray the history behind the costumes and the depth of the art they have created. Yet, Galembo intersperses humor throughout the book: shots of men poorly-dressed as women; masks with over-exaggerated features; children in ill-fitting outfits. She delivers a unique history of the Mestizoes. In one image, two men, one of them outfitted as a woman, shuffle around and grab at each other playfully, echoing a couple caught in the act.
Her focus on the complexities behind the Mestizo culture is shown through the dynamic aspects of the costumes. Each handmade outfit resembles a person or a story from the past. The costumes are reimagined versions from the archives of both the Mexican and Spanish history; holding onto aspects of the past interwoven with pieces of the present. Galembo delivers a beautiful recounting of how the people present both their history and themselves--empowering both the natives and her reader.