Japanese Noh (a form of theater in which the players wear hand-carved masks) emerged hundreds and hundreds of years ago during the Muromachi period. Noh’s survival into contemporary times is extraordianry in and of itself. But while much of the art form’s traditions have endured throughout the centuries, there have been some changes. For example, there aren’t quite as many variations of masks as there were at the height of Noh’s popularity. The making of the masks has undergone some shifts as well.
Last month, the NYT published a piece on the female mask carvers who have entered the once male-dominated field:
Before World War II, only men were allowed to perform Noh professionally; now, some women play leading roles. But until recently, mask making, in which blocks of hinoki cypress carved in high relief are hollowed out, then primed with a white mixture of crushed oyster shells and animal glue — with mineral pigment for lips and cheeks, and gold powder or copper to give the teeth and eyes of masks depicting supernatural beings an otherworldly glow — was a craft largely handed down from father to son.
THAT’S CHANGED SOMEWHAT in the years since the Kyoto-based Mitsue Nakamura, 76, started learning the craft in the 1980s. When she began, she knew of only one other woman in the field, but this year, all four of her current apprentices, some of whom study for as long as 10 years, are female. Some adhere to the traditional archetypes and techniques, while others radically reinterpret them.
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