December 2023 | Exhibition

Iwami Kagura Masks by Taizo Kobayashi

December 2, 2023 – January 5, 2024

Taizo Kobayashi

Taizo Kobayashi lives and works in the Iwami region of Shimane Prefecture, facing the Japan Sea in western Japan. He makes masks for Iwami Kagura, a local form of storytelling through dance, song and music that evolved to preserve and transmit Japan’s earliest mythologies. Kagura began as a religious ritual, performed in dedication to Shinto gods. While many regions of Japan have their own forms of kagura, Iwami Kagura stands apart for its dynamism and enduring importance in the local community.

Unlike Noh masks, which are carved from wood and heavy on the performer’s face, Iwami Kagura masks are made of paper. The masks are rigid yet light, allowing dancers a more energetic range of movement. Kobayashi crafts each mask entirely by hand, affixing tiny strips of locally made washi paper over clay molds with a natural adhesive. Through this traditional technique he painstakingly builds the expressive facial features of the large range of characters that appear in Iwami Kagura, from gods and heroes to princesses and elderly women, as well as the fearsome fangs and horns of serpent-like monsters. The final step is painting with natural pigments and gold. While providing masks and serpent heads used by performance groups throughout the Iwami region, Kobayashi has also pioneered a new direction for the craft. Using the same techniques and materials, and inspired by the ancient myths related in Iwami Kagura, he creates large-scale wall and ceiling reliefs in pure and unadorned white.

Bruce Osborn (Exhibition Committee Chair)
Peter Lyon (Co-Chair)