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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

‘Mexican Masks’ exhibit explores the art of masks in Mexican culture

Masks+on+display+at+the+Latin+American+Cultural+Center+as+a+part+of+the+new+Mexican+Masks+Exhibition.
Tanya Babbar | Staff Writer
Masks on display at the Latin American Cultural Center as a part of the new Mexican Masks Exhibition.

When visitors enter the Mexican Masks exhibit at the Latin American Cultural Center, they will find themselves in a maze of 88 striking masked faces, varied in material, expression and purpose, tracing the artistic history of mask-making in Mexico all the way from 7000 B.C.E. to today. 

The Latin American Studies Association and the Latin American Cultural Center on Bigelow Boulevard hosted their annual gala “Arte y Cultura” this past Saturday at the LACC to celebrate the opening of the “Mexican Masks: Symbols, Celebration, Satire and Safety” exhibit. 

The opening gala for the exhibit featured speeches from Margarita Lopez Maya, the former president of LASA, Jake Pawlak, the deputy mayor of Pittsburgh and Sandra Budd, the LACC assistant director. Camerata 33, a Pittsburgh chamber orchestra focused on increasing the presence of Latin American Chamber music in American music halls, also had a live performance. 

Sandra Budd curated the exhibit, which explores the rich history of masks in Mexican history and culture across time, with the help of LACC senior advisers Sylvia Keller and Bill DeWalt. Collected from 19 different states in Mexico, the masks adorning the exhibit walls are accompanied by informational text made possible by Bill DeWalt and a video presentation about the use of masks in celebrations and festivals. 

Together, Budd hopes these elements will teach visitors about the diverse uses of masks in Mexican history and culture.

“I hope visitors will gain a greater appreciation for the cultural importance and diversity of mask making in Mexico,” Budd said. “This selection of masks is an incredible example of the best mask makers in Mexico.”

The attendees of Saturday’s gala were the first people in the public to see the exhibit. For some, the exhibit taught them about a new part of Latin American culture, and for others, the exhibit hit close to home. 

Eduardo Mu, originally from Peru, connected the use of masks in Mexican cultural celebration to Peruvian traditions, particularly when masks symbolize the fight between good and evil. Mu expressed appreciation for the artistic prowess shared between the two cultures. 

“It is a common denominator across cultures that people are always trying to symbolize this idea that good will prevail over evil and every year they have these celebrations to commemorate dances and masks to keep the tradition alive,” Mu said. “Some of those masks are very scary actually, and very creative and I think very impactful to the people. I couldn’t imagine something like that in my wildest dreams, so people are very artistic to create this thing.”

Like Mu, Diego Pirela, an attendee from Venezuela and a friend of executive director Dr. Milagros Pereyra-Rojas, enjoyed being able to connect the exhibit to his own culture. For Pirela, seeing the exhibit Saturday made him treasure the existence of a space like the LACC for its ability to make people feel represented.

“I’m from Venezuela, and a few of the masks that I saw remind me of our own culture,” Pirela said. “It feels very nice that there is a space where you can feel like there are other people that treasure your culture and where you come from. 

While Pirela valued how the exhibit reminded him of his culture, he said seeing the exhibit will be just as meaningful for those who did not grow up in Latin American cultures.

“It always feels very good to see something that is not from your culture, something that is new for you, and that also gives you a little more knowledge of other things and maybe, lets you go out of your comfort zone,” Pirela said. 

Norman Beech, the exhibit’s technical adviser, appreciated the LACC’s ability to take people out of their comfort zones and learn about other cultures. He said it’s one of the most compelling reasons he thinks people should check out the exhibit.

“I am really happy the center gets a lot of school groups because it is a great educational experience,” Beech said. “There aren’t enough kids in the world that are exposed to cultural learning, especially in America. We just don’t do that very well, but this place does it very well.”

The role of the LACC as a space for Latin American cultural appreciation and education is something Deputy Mayor Pawlak emphasized in his speech at Saturday’s gala, where he expressed his happiness in knowing that Pittsburgh has recently become the home of the LACC, which serves as the headquarters for LASA, in September of 2022.

Pawlak said with Pittsburgh’s growing Latin American population, he and the Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration feel that celebrating cultural art is a valuable piece of welcoming Latin American immigrants to the city.

“I can see a really meaningful point of connection in seeing your culture represented in the place you call home,” Pawlak said. “As a city, and as an administration, and with the Latin American community being among the two the fastest growing immigrant populations in Pittsburgh, having resources like this that can give that sense of value and connectedness to those people is really important to us as we try to make Pittsburgh among, if not the most, welcoming in the country.”

For Mo Alabi, a guest of Feyisola Akintola, the City’s manager of immigration affairs, the fact that there is space for cultural art at the LACC makes her believe the city gives signs of good faith to its immigrant communities.

“Art is such an important part of shared humanity,” Alabi said. “So when places make space for immigrants and art and the culture they bring, and almost specifically, giving space on a wall, it’s almost kind of saying: ‘We want to see you. We want to understand you, and we want to interact with you.’”

About the Contributor
Tanya Babbar, Senior Staff Writer
Tanya Babbar is a junior English nonfiction writing major with a minor in creative writing. In her free time, she likes to roller skate, read on the front porch, talk about her cat Juppi and imagine herself as the Walmart Joan Didion of South Oakland.