Who are those Masked Men?

Yesterday, I held a Mask Making workshop for four lovely men.  There were two visual artists, one writer and one psychologist.   They are all interested in new experiences and inner exploration.

I plan my workshops within a framework which gives the day structure, but remains fluid in response to each unique group of people.   I’m lucky enough to live in a large enough and flexible space that I can hold these in my home.  I begin by welcoming participants with a hot drink and giving people time to arrive and meet everyone.   We gather to introduce ourselves and say a little, or a lot, about where we’ve come from and what we anticipate from the day.  Next we watch a DVD I’ve put together of masks in their six primary functions – protection, performance, disguise, ritual, entertainment and decoration.  I begin with this quote from Howard Gayton, co-founder of Ophaboom, an English physical theatre company:

“The act of stripping away, of diving into areas of being that are normally not accessed, is not only facilitated by the mask, but it is how the mask works. Masks demand of us honesty, a reaching into our depths. To understand masks we need to be able to hold paradox; how can something that covers, that hides, reveal so much? Masks have been used for millennia by traditional societies as shamanic tools, to aid individuals in reaching altered states of consciousness; in other words to travel into their own selves in order to bring back a boon to their society. In our case, this boon is wisdom. We open ourselves up, we struggle with our internal selves, and our aim is to bring back wisdom.”

Neolithic Stone Mask, 7,000 BCE

We have quite interesting discussions and observations about the interface quality of masks, eg, between the wearer and other people, between one’s inner and outer worlds.  Masks have an inherent ‘performance’ quality – the empty form of a mask, though sometimes powerful in its own right, calls for a wearer and an audience.

We begin the practical part of the day by  going ‘under the mask’.  I use ModRoc Plaster of Paris bandages, which take about 30 minutes to harden enough to remove.   I generally have a helper and we keep the room calm and quiet, making sure people are warm and comfortable.  Besides being very relaxing, people may take an inner journey, perhaps travelling to meet the Other behind their mask.  Even though this is a relatively ‘passive’ part of the experience, I have found (personally and through observation) that it is very valuable.  Some people share imagery of being in a tomb, of a death, perhaps some sadness; it is quite a profound experience to have one’s features erased, if only for a short while.

Under the Mask

I give people the option, where time permits, of applying the mask.

Once the masks have come off, they go into a low oven to dry while we have some lunch.   After about 90 mimutes, the masks are decorated.

Blank palettes

Being two-sided, some masks held hidden mystery.

Inner Gold

Contemplating the Inner Universe

It’s always great at the end of the day to see people donning and posing with their masks.

I am constantly amazed by the diversity and individuality of people’s creativity.

The Masked Men


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