In preparation for Mardi Gras on February 9th, learn about the role of masks in the famous New Orleans celebration! While masks were not initially a key part of Mardi Gras, they have become a cultural symbol of New Orleans and Carnival. In his article “Something About Being Anonymous”: The New Orleans Mardi Gras Mask Market, Frank de Caro presents the history of the mask’s place in New Orleans culture.
Masks have been popular for centuries, in many cultures, because they offer a unique opportunity for disguise and transformation. Wearing a mask encourages people to adopt a different identity or retreat into anonymity. The New Orleans Mardi Gras Mask Market was started in 1982 by Mike Stark. It is an annual event that spans a few days before Mardi Gras and hosts about fifteen vendors, both local and from around the country. It has become an important part of Mardi Gras and now features music and performances.
Masks are used officially in Mardi Gras celebrations by “krewes” (Carnival organizations) to keep their identities secret, but are also simply bought by tourists as a token of the city. For this reason, masks are sold not only in the Mask Market or at events connected to Carnival, but year round at shops throughout the city.