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September 7, 2001
Volume 39, No. 2


Uncovering the world of Chinese masks
A civil place to work: Complaints down 6%
At Iowa, safety's first when human beings are under the microscope
New team investigates sex crimes, helps victims
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Uncovering the world of Chinese masks

A modern recasting of a 3,000-year-old bronze mask found in pieces in Sanxingdu, Guanghan, Sichuan Province. It is 4 feet, 7 inches wide, and 2 feet high. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

There has been very little scholarly work done on the use of masks in the many cultures of China, and there are few scholarly collections of any size anywhere in the world. That makes the current exhibition of 62 Chinese masks in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Medical Museum a rare opportunity.

The exhibit, on display through Sept. 30 in Gallery B of the museum and in the UIHC Main Lobby, is sponsored by the museum, Project Art, and the Iowa City Area Science Center.

“This is the largest exhibition of its kind outside China,” says Carl Lindquist, director of Project Art. “And we believe this to be the first time any of these masks have been seen outside China.”

  A 19th-century painted wooden mask of the god of wealth, 14 inches tall, from Nanfeng, in Jiangxi Province. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

The collection was assembled by Rufen Song, a UI visiting scholar in anthropology, and Jian Guan, a UI Ph.D. candidate in paleontology. Financed by a private group in China and with the backing of the Museum of Natural History in Beijing, the couple traveled extensively in provincial areas of China, searching for masks and mask traditions.

“Like Song and Guan, most scholars of the Chinese mask—and there aren’t very many—started from scratch,” Lindquist says. “This is because it’s a new area of study, with very little documentation.”

China’s huge area and its wide diversity of peoples and cultures contribute a great variety of designs and materials evident in the exhibit, including cast bronze, silver, wood, papier mâché, turtle shells, and water buffalo horns and teeth. Most of the masks are from this and the previous century, but one of the masks is more than 3,000 years old, and another dates from about 800 A.D. The largest mask in the exhibit is a recasting of the original, which was apparently part of a sacrificial ceremony in Sichuan Province some 3,000 years ago.

“The original mask was found with other objects broken into several pieces,” says Lindquist, “which could mean that it had been created and then broken as an offering.”

The exhibition will travel to other sites in Iowa.

“We’re currently looking for new venues in the state and elsewhere,” Lindquist says.

Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Article by Charles S. Drum

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