Posts Tagged ‘masks’

The Mask I Make

It was something I knew nothing about. That’s a beginning.  I have had the good fortune to be placed in circumstance where status means little and privilege is a shared experience of a community of women in a transformational environment. This would describe the mask making workshop I attended at the local multicultural center.

The tables had been placed in the center of the large workroom and around the periphery of the room there were craft stations that included glue guns, extension cords, feathers, beads, paint and brushes, an assortment of buttons and shiny things, colored wire, brightly fashioned yarns, and a myriad of other crafty things that would satisfy even the most critical of crows. There was somewhere between fifteen and twenty women seated watching as our fearless leader introduced herself and asked us to think about our own definition of a mask. What is the mask’s purpose? When do we choose to wear a mask and why? What does our mask say about us? Are we able to take our mask off?

I knew none of the other women, for quite a few English was not their first language. I met Lois when I offered to her the seat beside me. Lois had the physique I remember my grandmother having, an ample bosom without a clear distinction between chest and waist. Her hair gray at the roots, her glasses frequently pushed up from the end of her nose. She fretted to me about her current predicament, one in which she had been laid off from a job she had held for twenty nine years and as a result had joined a local empowerment program for women. She had only attended the program for two weeks when her former employer had offered her work. She was fearful to leave the program; fearful to refuse the work. She was simply fearful. Our instructor demonstrated the mask technique, calling for a volunteer she seated her in a chair and proceeded to apply Vaseline to her face, outlining her hair, protecting her lips and eyebrows from the adhesive quality of the plaster that would form the shape of her face. Lois was worried; this might be more than she could endure. “I’m rather claustrophobic” she confessed. “When I have an MRI, the space is so close, they talk to me and that helps, but I might not be very good with having my face covered.” I attempted to assure her. It was all right, I would go first and she could apply the mask on me. She needn’t have one applied to her own face it if made her uncomfortable. I continued to watch as the instructor applied the plaster strips to the face of the volunteer. She had placed cotton gauze over the mouth and the eyes, pressing to outline the lips as she continued to work the plaster and smooth its surface. The volunteer had chosen to close her mouth. As I watched I became aware of the obvious personal symbolism, life had been bidding me silent for a very long time. I had so many stories and the storytelling always became animated with volume and gesture. For quite some time I had tried to be more subdued and submissive –  silent. Just realizing this brought tears to my eyes and I struggled to suppress the lump in my throat.

I helped Lois get prepared to apply the plaster to my face. I knew she was anxious, her hands were hesitant and I sensed she was not confident about her ability to do this “right”. The process took but a few minutes and Lois was relieved when a volunteer came to speed the process along and help with the application. The plaster sufficiently hardened to remove the form of my face and we placed it on the table as Lois took the chair. I admired her bravery for it was obvious this wasn’t something easy for her.

In turn, each woman shared in the creation and we proceeded to the blow dryers to speed along the drying process. Many women chose to reinforce their masks with additional strips of plaster to strengthen the shape, sanding down rough edges, polishing the surfaces to perfection. Many applied Gesso so that the form could be painted, as others lingered over the craft stations to choose just the right accessories for adornment. Silver hair, tiny shells, golden faces, and sparkling hues, all speaking of women whose hands shaped their story, silently their messages were created.

Time is always a consideration and for the women in the class, other obligations hurried them to complete their maskIMG_5184s. As we sat together in a circle with our gifts in our laps, there remained only six women, a testament to busy lives. Lois was one of the six. Her mask was painted green, “Mother Earth” she said. There were diagonal lines of vibrant blue, and brilliant yellow. “The sky and the sun.” she explained. Haltingly she interpreted her mask as representing her place in the universe, she was a part of it all. “I’ve always put the needs of others before my own needs. I’m learning that I don’t have to do that.” As the others shared, a quiet spirituality was expressed through tears. Individual stories captured hearts as we realized how much we had in common.

When my turn came, I gently held the face toward the women. It was not painted on its exterior, no gesso, no color, and the edges were rough and unpolished. The lips were outlined in red and where the paint had escaped my inexperienced hands, a red mole held prominence to the right of the lips. I quietly offered that this was who I am; part diva, yet unfinished, rough around the edges, not very polished. I had gathered fanciful yarn in hues of azure and sapphire, tacked on tiny sparkling leaves of aqua and draped this from the back toward the front of my mask. This, I explained was a hint of what was on the inside. I IMG_5183turned the face toward the women so that the inside was visible. There, the eyes were beaded bright, turquoise gemstones and buttons, wiry teal glitter and ceramic bobbles surrounded the eyes. I had found these treasures would not adhere to the outside, that discovery had confirmed what I already knew. The mouth was surrounded with crimson reds and small scarlet spikes of wood peeked out from the edges of fire engine red feathers. Here is where my words could be expressed from the open mouth, here is how I would speak my truth, see the world, and find my voice.

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