Mysterious Masks Unveiled

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Two frightful masks found in an SMU library collection, labeled as 19th-century Mexican theatrical artifacts, have turned out to be very rare Japanese items. Emily George Grubbs ’08, a curatorial assistant in Hamon Arts Library who majored in anthropology, discovered the masks while cataloging materials for the McCord/Renshaw Theatre Collection.

An Asian art expert at the Kimbell Art Museum identified them as gigaku masks, used in Buddhist dance ceremonies performed in 7th- and 8th-century Japan. About 200 gigaku masks exist in Japan. Only about 10 known examples exist elsewhere
in the world, six of them in the United States – including the two in Hamon Arts Library.
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