07 Jan Himalayan Masks – Lanfranchi Collection
NEPALESE TRIBAL MASKS
DISCOVERY AND ADVENTURE
by Renzo Freschi
- BY BUS TO KATHMANDU. In 1971 I reached Kathmandu, the end of a land journey that began from Europe to Afghanistan, then to India and finally to Nepal. I was a young merchant and had taken an interest in ethnography and folk art, and was shuttling between Milan and the Orient. I traveled by train and bus among common people and from their costumes and jewelry I learned to identify their ethnicity. Upon arriving in Kathmandu the scene and atmosphere struck me as what 16th-century Florence must have been like: a city, no—a valley, where the eye was lost among pagodas, temples and palaces decorated like works of art. Every morning the main square of Basantapur teemed with sellers of ancient marvels, jewelry, wood carvings, masks, furnishings, ritual objects, illuminated books, sacred images—all waiting to be exchanged after some haggling which was both a ritual and a way to know the person in front of you. The articles were mostly Nepalese but there were also Tibetan ones from the diaspora that brought a sizeable community to the valley, and with the migration everything the Tibetans could rescue or obtain through mysterious ways.
- A MYSTIFYING DISCOVERY. After the mid-1970s, in that square and in local shops, more masks appeared alongside the “classical” ones from Tibet. These masks were completely different, covered in hair, with extraordinary shiny patinas supporting fierce or dazed expressions; sometimes they were made of roughed out pieces of wood. No-one knew or was willing to reveal where they came from. Possibly these odd masks had been discovered by some local supplier while going from one village to the next to supply antique dealers and markets. So old were they that even their owners had lost all memory of them. The first merchants of these peculiar masks were the Nepalese on the square, soon to be surpassed by the Tibetans who were always unrivaled traders.They sniffed out the business and opened a host of shops behind Freak Street, where one also wandered for a chat and for the pleasant company. Tsering Tashi, Pasang, Rinchen, Dawa, are all people still holding a place in my heart. There was also Karma Lama, who opened the Ritual Art Gallery, just a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace. He sold masks at such exorbitant prices that only the wealthy tourists could afford them.
Excerpt from introduction of the book:
“Himalayan Masks – Lanfranchi Collection”
by Renzo Freschi and Luciano Lanfranchi
The book, “Himalayan Masks – Lanfranchi Collection” consisting 384 pages with 260 photographed masks may be purchased in the Gallery or by mail order at the price of €150, excluding shipping costs.