12169 Apa Mask "The Father" Character

Monpa or Sherdukpen People, Arunachal Pradesh or Bhutan

Wood, pigment

19th Century or earlier

9.5 in / 24 cm

This mask is a masterpiece that transcends its genre, arriving at what might be termed an archetypal essence of "maskness,"  that brings to mind the jade masks of the Olmec and Teotihuacan cultures of Mesoamerica. Apa is known to be the father of Mienchung Chopa or Mienching Ajeh, characters of the Alche Lhamo opera tradition. This superb Monpa mask from Arunachal Pradesh or Bhutan would have been worn in Alch Lhamo village performances to represent Apa, or Old Broken Tooth. The character’s origins date back to the Great Debate over which form of Bhuddism was to become official in 8th century Tibet. The Chan monk Heshang Moheyan who lost the debate became a comic character. The finely carved features of this mask are akin to those of Olmec masks from ancient Mexico.