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Published by Sugar & Cream, Monday 17 June 2024

Images courtesy of S by Salanitro

The Barong Mask – Indonesia, The Kitsune Mask – Japan, The Ngil Mask – Gabon

In 2024, Pierre Salanitro founder of S by Salanitro unveils its second collection of precious and extraordinary objects: three emblematic masks from three new countries – Japan, Gabon and Indonesia. Each mask is a contemporary reinterpretation, bewitching and fascinating in its symbolism.

Pierre Salanitro

Embedding precious stones into an object goes beyond merely enhancing its value; it is a fundamental part of the object’s concept, affecting its appearance and shape, and ultimately defining its essence and character.

Regarding the material for the mask, silver gilt – gold-plated silver also known by the French word vermeil – was the natural choice. This decision is symbolic: in France, where this material was first created, the Noces de Vermeil marks 45 years of marriage longevity.

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Each piece measures approximately 20 cm in height and comes in a presentation box made by Geneva’s finest casemakers. The mask can also be displayed on the wall, thanks to the mount provided.

Indonesia – The Barong Mask
That masks have a magical dimension is a trait observed in cultures around the world and across the ages. This is still true today, as seen with the famous mask from Barong theater, a cornerstone of Balinese culture.

Barong, a creature born in Balinese mythology, is the lord of the forest and the leader of the Forces of Good. With immense spiritual power to ward off evil, Barong is a benevolent deity whom the Balinese invoke in times of trouble. The mask that represents this spirit is considered the most sacred in the island’s traditions. ‘Barong’ also refers to one of Bali’s four iconic dances, which dramatizes the eternal battle between Barong and his nemesis, Rangda. While Barong symbolizes good, Rangda embodies evil, depicted as a demon queen and the incarnation of Calon Arang, a legendary witch who brought drought and epidemics to ancient Java during King Airlangga’s reign in the tenth century. When villagers attempted to confront her, she turned their attacks back upon them. It was at this critical juncture that Barong intervened, being the sole force capable of temporarily repelling her.

Japan – The Kitsune Mask
In Japan, the sacred fox wields mysterious magical powers. Tales and legends speak of its ability to take human form. Its polymorphic abilities are so profound that it can even transform itself into objects or other living beings. Its powers grow with age and wisdom.

An inseparable symbol of Japanese popular culture, the kitsune mask (狐) symbolizes the fox god. A supernatural spirit, its origins trace back to the era of samurai warriors, geishas and ninjas. Enveloped in fantasy and mythology, and intertwined with numerous urban legends, the fox, alongside the torii gates, cherry blossoms, and the katana sword, stands as a quintessential symbol of Japanese culture. Given Japan’s incredibly rich history of masks, the existence of the kitsune mask as a tangible artifact holds a significance far beyond being merely a legendary object.

Gabon – The Ngil Mask
Connecting with the forces of the beyond in African lore, S by Salanitro creation offers a contemporary reinterpretation of a mask from the Ngil secret society in Gabon, symbolizing authority, power, and the purifying force of fire.

Recognizable by its heart-shaped face, exaggeratedly elongated with a bulging forehead and long, slender nose, the Fang society wore such a mask of justice as part of the ritual of identifying those guilty of witchcraft, among other things. Forming a militia, commissioned and funded by patrons, the society would move from village to village in response to unexplained deaths or suspicions of bewitchment. The ritual primarily aimed to intimidate villagers with bad intentions or those who secretly kept forbidden ‘fetishes,’ notably by having members wearing the mask surging out of the darkness at nightfall.

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