ACROSS THE empty wooden floor in a small dark room, a man is sitting on his
desk with his back turned. His arms are moving busily to the rhythm of the
cracking sound, dust appears and gently dances in the air under the bright light
on the man's desk. Suddenly, everything stops. The man sits still. He looks down
at what he was carving, and seems to think for a moment. Soon, he lets out a
sigh of joy. "Ahh... It is done!" What could the man possibly have been making?
Going closer to the man, and peering over his shoulder, a dark brown object is
seen. A man's face is looking up with a huge bright smile. It is about to open
its mouth and talk to the man when it is realized... it is a mask!
Hahoe mask was named after the Hahoe village. In the Goryeo dynasty, the Heo
family first settled in the village. According to the folk tale, that Heo, the
eldest son of the Heo family, created the hahoe masks, it can be assumed that
the hahoe masks were made during the Goryeo dynasty. The masks were made for the
purpose of protecting the village from natural disasters. After they were all
made, the villagers held an yearly exorcism, and believed that by holding this
ritual ceremony, the gods would look after them.
As the masks' facial expressions are so much like that of a real human
beings, they have gained good reputations such as getting nominated as a
national treasure. For instance, the chin of some masks are separated from the
face so that everytime the actor talks the mask seems like talking. Moreover,
the asymmetric structure of the faces makes the masks more realistic since the
actual human face is also asymmetric. What makes the masks more priceless is
that they bring out various facial expressions. From a certain angle, the mask
seems smiling, but from another, it seems crying. These characteristics let the
masks denote the faces of the ancesters thoroughly.
Eleven hahoe masks reflect the old times when they were made, and represent
the social class of that time. Yangban, gaksi, and the seonbi masks are the main
examples. Yangban was the title of the upper class at the time, and their
relaxed, idle images are expressed with delicate lines of the face. Gaksi mask
has the image of a quiet young bride. By lowering her eyes and shutting her
mouth tight, she seems to endure the hardness of her married life all by
herself, like a typical traditional woman did. The seonbi mask is all grumpy
because he thinks that the society does not fully acknouledge him. He is a
classical scholar deprived of the chance to go up to the official rank. Through
the unique characteristics of the masks, people could feel the old social
atmosphere more lively.
Although in the present, the most amazing part of the hahoe masks is that
they possess the beauty of realism for, the ancestors' concept of the mask
differed at that time. Since the main function of the masks was to protect the
village, the masks were more like ritual objects than art crafts. Moreover,
masks were used as a tool to soothe the anger of the lower class. During the
talchum, the Korean mask dance, nobody was allowed to interfere the actor
wearing the mask. If so, they were believed to have been cursed. As the actors
wearing the masks were endowed with the absolute power at the moment, they
satirized the upper class as much as they wanted. However, keep in mind, the
masks themselves did not possess the meaning of satire. This means that the
hahoe masks representing the upper class are perfectly normal and of, compared
to other Korean masks which depicted the upper class in a ludicruos way. The
yangban mask, for example, came to be the most beautiful of all masks. The
hahoe masks that originated in the village are now preserved in the National
Museum of Korea. However, the tradition of making the masks is constantly
inherited in Hahoe village. The masks that were recently made in the village
were invited to many countries for displays such as the White House Museum of
the U.S. and other various mask exhibitions.
Practical usage of masks also has been made along with the continual uses of
the hahoe talchum, the hahoe mask dance. For example, children could realize the
importance of a smile through an event that gave them a chance to make hahoe
masks by themselves. "The beauty of hahoe masks lies in their facial lines.
These beautiful lines make the facial expressions of the mask more lively." said
Kim Dong-pyo, the superintendent of the Hahoe Mask Museum.
From the first sight of the
hahoe masks, Koreans feel somewhat familiar with them. The faces of the masks
resemble those of Koreans' because the masks contain the Korean spirit. At the
same time, however, Koreans reflect upon on their phlegmatic faces, and realize
how their ancestors had lived a vivid life. To get back the old multifarious
expressions on their faces, they would have to try to view at their lives in a
positive way, and enjoy every moment.