Zarco Guerrero had a career in masks long before COVID-19.
Guerrero grew up in Mesa but has spent more than 20 years traveling the world – including Mexico, Japan and Indonesia – studying how various cultures use ornate masks.
On Sunday, March 6, he’ll bring his love for masks back to Pioneer Park for the fifth annual Mask Alive! Mask Festival. The event, hosted by Guerrero’s wife, Carmen, will feature his son – singer and songwriter QVLN (Q-Violin) Quetzal Guerrero.
“Every culture in the world has used a mask at some point for one thing or another,” Zarco said.
He explained that many cultures used masks for primordial purposes in combination with wearing animal skins to hunt stealthily, as the masks were believed to give hunters powers.
“The masking process gave them extra power,” he said. “Like a supernatural power because the human disappears, and the animal appears.”
He said societies also used masks for dance ceremonies, carnival celebrations and spiritual practices, but they slowly faded from history.
Now he seeks to help people rediscover these traditions that cross the world.
“I found out as a mask maker that a lot of those traditions still exist in our community,” he said. “We want to bring them to the fore and celebrate the cultures that practice them.”
He said the festival helps showcase these diverse traditions in a unique, multicultural celebration unlike any event he knows of in the country.
Mexican masks first influenced his art primarily due to his Chicano roots, but most of his masks do not have a specific culture that inspired them.
Instead, he drew inspiration from his travels around the world, particularly his time in Kyoto, Japan, which he visited more than a dozen times.
For over 20 years, Guerrero has performed with the Japanese Matsuri Festival in Phoenix and he has stated that Japanese Taiko Drums will perform at the March 6 festival.
He has had a passion for percussion music for over 30 years and will show his talents when he performs on his hand-carved drums at the festival on traditional Aztec drums called huehuetls – upright wooden tube drums that stand on three feet carved into the base and open at the bottom.
His wife said what appeals to him most is “his ability to bring masks to life and dance at public events”.
Carmen is executive director of the Cultural Coalition, a non-profit organization created in 2000 to promote local artists. Zarco is president and chairman of the board.
The Guerreros have been married for over 40 years and have three children, two of whom are not involved in the arts community at this time.
They share a passion for serving their community that stems from their lives growing up amid the Cesar Chavez-inspired 1960s civil rights marches and protests.
“We learned from this movement that as artists, our obligation is to serve our community,” he said.
Guerrero said the coalition wants to promote healthy, family-friendly options that the public can enjoy for free, because the place in the parks and the culture and history they present belong equally to everyone.
“We have the right to know our history,” he said. “It is the artists who dig it up, seek it out, find it and bring it into the public sphere.”
He said artists can help heal the community at a time when everyone has suffered from the pandemic and a chaotic world.
“We want to use culture, this rich cultural heritage that exists in our diverse community, to heal our community,” he said.
“To heal this pain of pandemic isolation, to heal us from the anxiety that eats away at us living in this world as it is today.”
If you are going to…
What: Living mask! Masks Festival
Or: Pioneer Park, 526 E. Main St., Mesa
When: 12pm-5pm March 6