Masks carried great significance in pre-Columbian Mexican society, particularly as part of rituals intended to bring them into contact with the gods. By wearing a mask, you could literally become someone else. This fact fascinates Daan Paans, especially in the light of the debate about cultural identity: who are we, what is it that makes us a particular individual or part of a certain group? A mask conceals the wearer’s individual identity, but emphasises the collective identity of the group for which the use of masks carries meaning.
The Spanish invasion of the Mayan empire had a stylistic influence on the original masks. Masks were created that represented the ‘conquistadors’. The Spaniards saw the opportunity to influence Mayan society through masks and rituals. Over time the masks of the Spanish conquerors became part of Mayan culture, and later that of the Mexicans. Many of these masks have blue eyes or red skin, and are actually the result of a complex interaction between cultures that continues even today.
Paans bought a number of these masks on eBay and had them shipped to the Netherlands. He used Facebook and Airbnb to get in contact with Spaniards who were willing to wear the masks. Ultimately, distant descendants of the conquistadors wore masks intended to portray their ancestors.
With this photographic series, Daan Paans touches on the complexity of the formation of cultural identities, on interaction and exchange, globalisation, copycat behaviour, and hybrids that are specific to each culture.