Masks have long played an important role in art, fashion, and folklore. San Antonians can learn about masks throughout history, culture, fiction, and fantasy, at the Central Library’s newly opened exhibit in the first floor gallery.

The exhibit, simply titled Mask Show, contains masks, or works prominently featuring masks, by more than 25 local, regional, and national artists. The show was organized and curated by Misa Yamamoto and Fabian Leon Villa of Essentials Creative, a locally-founded multimedia arts collective now based in Austin. 

When offered the gallery space, back in 2018, Villa said that the initial idea was to fill it with Essentials masks. Considering the expansiveness of the space, however, Villa and Yamamoto brought in other artists from San Antonio and Austin and reached out to artists outside of Texas via Instagram.

Villa said that the mask theme felt natural, given that in the collective’s work masks frequently “manifest in images of hidden faces, masks as makeup, beads and fabric.” He is intrigued by the role of masks in different cultures and their various functions in ritual and entertainment.

The duo made a concerted effort to gather artists of varying backgrounds, cultural experiences, and experience levels, Villa said, because of their shared belief that it is “important to promote diversity in art and media and include underrepresented groups.”

“We hope the public discovers a variety of new artists and walks away with new perceptions of masks and inspiration to create their own,” Villa said.

Angela Fox, one of the local artists included in Mask Show, frequently centers masks and masked characters in her colorful paintings. Fox said that masks are significant to her because of the power to change identity.

“The mask itself is imbued with powers that are transferred to the wearer” by altering the perceptions of both the wearer and those they meet, Fox said. 

“Mask of Eternity” by Angela Fox, 2020. Credit: Courtesy / Angela Fox

For her, masks are also a way of encountering and exploring other aspects of herself and of tackling “abstract concepts that feel better expressed when broken down into a symbolic, graphic representation.”

Regina Villalobos-Perez, a marketing specialist with the Library, celebrates exhibits like this one as of “mutual benefit to the artists as well as the community.”

“Art exhibits are a window into our local cultural landscape which is the heart of who we are as a community,” she said.

Villalobos-Perez noted that the mask exhibit could encourage critical thought and dialogue about different types of masks and their influences in art and culture, and that, as such, it fits well with the Library’s commitment to the “transformative power of information, imagination, and ideas.

Mask Show runs through March 26.

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.