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Hartnell College Exhibit on 'Festival Masks of Mexico' Opens March 15

March 9th, 2004

An art exhibition titled "Festival Masks of Mexico" will open at Hartnell College on Monday, March 15.

The show, which is free and open to the public, will run through April 15. Hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The gallery will be closed for spring break April 2-12.

"Masks in Mexico have been used by many diverse cultures to celebrate, impersonate, protect, tell stories, and most importantly, to pass down cultural values," according to Trish Sullivan, who prepared the text for the exhibition.

She said the use of masks in Mexico, accompanied by music and dance, dates from pre-Hispanic times and continues to the present day. "Although most of the urban populations no longer celebrate festivals and holidays with masked dancers, these rituals are still practiced in the small villages of Mexico with traditional dances often commemorating the patron saint of the pueblo or town at a yearly festival," Sullivan continued.

Gary Smith, art instructor and gallery director, said that most masks created today are strictly for the tourist trade, and as more young people move to the cities, many of the traditional dances are in danger of being lost, as is the tradition of mask-carving itself.

The majority of the masks displayed in the Hartnell exhibit, according to Smith, were made and used for the purpose of performance. "They were collected in Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s to help preserve this dramatic and vibrant art form," he said.

The masks are a promised gift to Hartnell, and the purpose of the exhibition is to show the richness and range of the collection. Smith said future exhibits of the masks will explore more deeply the specific regional ceremonies for which these works were intended and trace their roots to pre-conquest ideas and ceremonies.

"Hartnell College is very grateful to a generous collector-donor whose admiration for Mexican dance masks took him through many isolated villages to assemble this fine collection and make Hartnell its permanent home," said Smith. "We are also indebted to art appraiser Gregory Ghent of Point Richmond, Calif., who graciously facilitated the transfer to these masks to Hartnell College."

Funding for the exhibition came from the Hartnell College Foundation through the bequest of Silicon Valley pioneer Burrel Leonard and Hartnell's annual Studio Party Art Auction Fund.

The gallery is located in the Visual Arts Building off of Alisal Street on the Hartnell campus, 411 Central Ave., Salinas.

For more information, contact Gary Smith at (831) 755-6791.

(Editors and Reporters: Digital photos of the masks are available from Gary Smith. Contact him at (831) 755-6791 or gsmith@hartnell.edu.