A postcard from Museo Nacional de Etnografico y Folklore

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“No fotos!” the ticket seller called out to me as I was walking into the museum. She didn’t offer to sell me a photo permit for 20Bs, even though I knew there was one, and I didn’t ask about it. I paid for it later when I tried to sneak a few pictures and felt incredibly nervous that the security guard would catch me.

But I don’t have the kind of camera that can take good photos in low-light conditions (or from the hip, which is what I was doing to try and avoid detection by the CCTV). You’ll have to just believe me when I say the gallery of masks is one of the coolest exhibitions I’ve seen.

With examples from all over Bolivia, hung at eye-level in poses reminiscent of a dancer in motion and music playing in the background, they looked as if they could have danced right off into the darkness. Even though I’ve seen some of these masks before, bobbing up and down during street parades in La Paz, they looked very different up close. There was no glass between the objects and me so there were no distracting reflections. I could see every detail – sequins, feathers, grass, seeds, foil, cloth and paint – that adorned the wood, metal and plastic surfaces.

The rest of this little museum was pretty cool too. The textile gallery had a light that sensed movement so that it turned off when no-one was in the room (or when you didn’t move for a long time because you were looking at minute figures woven into a belt). The ceramic and feather art galleries also had some interesting pieces (a giant phallus and ridiculously tall plumed head-dress come to mind). There was a cute cartoon running around the entire upper-floor gallery, visualizing the history of Bolivia. And there were lots of coins in the basement (they were the least interesting, but I looked anyway because the kindly guard, who hadn’t managed to catch me sneaking a picture, told me not to miss that section).

Visitors’ info: Museo Nacional de Etnografico y Folklore

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