DEMASKED

These photographs show 18 monks in the moments after taking off their masks after performing spiritual dances in Wangdi
Phodrang monastery in Bhutan. I wanted to capture the changes in the anatomy of their faces as they de-mask. My aim was to observe the visceral effects of the performance, the emanation of energy of the deity they had represented and the moments
before the dancer’s own, psychological mask would reappear on their features. I want to hold a moment of masklessness,
after the deity had fully departed, and before the monk had fully reappeared. Each picture is named after the deity represented by the mask they wore or the dance they performed.

Classical dances in Bhutan are reflected in the religious mask pageants and ritual dances. With the introduction of Buddhism
in the 8th century AD by Guru Padmasambhava from Tibet, ritual and mask dances gained roots in the Bhutanese system
as part of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. With the birth of the great Terton (treasure revealer) Pema Lingpa in the 15th
century, the mask dances in Bhutan took firm roots and gained an impetus as part of the Bhutanese cultural life. The Ter
Cham (treasure dances) and Pe Ling Ging Sum were the most famous of the dances that still continues to this day. In the
17th century with the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal from Tibet, the mask dances further gained importance.
Many new dances were introduced. The Puna Domchoe was introduced in Punakha Dzong as accompaniment to the prayers
to the protector deity Pel yeshey Gonpo (Mahakala). Je Kuenga Gyeltshen, the reincarnation of Jampel Dorji also introduced
a dance in honour of Pelden Lhamo (mahakali) in Trashichhodzong. Some of the celebrated dances are Zhana cham or the
Black Hat dance, the Degyed cham or the Spirit dance, the Durdag cham or the Dance of Shamashan Lord and the Guru
Tshengyed or the Dance of the Eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava.
The religious dances are symbolic and have a common theme to destroy or trample the evil spirits. The swords of the dancers
symbolize cutting through ignorance while the drums drive away all malevolent evils and demons. Witnessing the dances
is believed to remove sins and take one closer towards attaining nirvana or enlightenment.
Dances are performed annually in all important Dzongs, temples and in monasteries and usually lasts for three to five days.
The occasion is known as Tshechu and all the village people get together and take part in the ceremonies dressed in their
finest clothes.