Though masks are popularly conceived of as limiting expression, they allow their wearers to access a range of emotionality, of which the human face alone is incapable.
Other major museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, still require visitors to be masked indoors.
In the past year the face covering became a part of most outfits and sometimes a statement in itself.
As if 2020 wasn’t weird enough, a Japanese company is now selling hyper-realistic 3D-printed masks that allow you to practically wear someone else’s face.
The face of “L’Inconnue de la Seine” was a fashionable fixture of salons and studios, her enigmatic expression of a slight smile and closed eyes haunted by stories of her suicide.
Masks present a quandary. It’s not so much what they’re hiding that I wonder about, but what the camouflage or costuming is meant to produce in me.
Around 100 masks of every contorted grimace imaginable, both human and animalistic, are assembled on the top floor of the Rubin Museum of Art for the new exhibition Becoming Another: The Power of Masks.
Whether sequestered behind glass in a museum or sold to tourists along Fifth Avenue, the African mask is an image from the non-Western world that we are all familiar with. Yet walking though the African art galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day, I felt somewhat disconnected from the African mask. Severed from its intended use for performance and ceremonies, the mask as it is presented in the museum becomes an ambiguous object. Does the mask still have relevance when removed from its cultural context? Can we appreciate it for just its form? Is it art or artifact?