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Masks that reveal eastern Switzerland

One of Albert Anton Willi's wild creations: "Mask with large teeth". Rietberg Museum

The Rietberg Museum in Zurich is getting in the carnival mood with a new exhibition of hand-carved masks. The "Carnival Masks of Eastern Switzerland" runs until February 25.

The wooden masks from the area of eastern Switzerland known as “Sarganserland” are at once comical and frightening, with their bulging eyes and evil grins.

The collection includes priceless works from the 19th century by the region’s oldest known mask makers, Justus Rinderer and Georg Emil Kalberer. Many of the examples on display were caricatures of prominent local people. In some ways they filled the same function in their time as political cartoons do today.

Works of the artist, Albert Anton Willi (1872-1954) from Ems in Graubünden, occupy a special place in the exhibition. An unskilled labourer, Willi took to carving masks in order to better understand himself and the world around him.

He often used himself as a model, cutting twisted facial expressions into wood based only on his mirror reflection. He often carved masks with huge bulging eyes and open mouths, which seem about to scream.

“The Carnival masks of Eastern Switzerland” is the final in a trilogy of exhibitions at the Rietberg on Swiss mask-making traditions. The museum also boasts a rich collection of carnival masks from Central Switzerland and the Lötschental in canton Valais.

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