Mask making is a very primal artistic expression. Masks have been made by tribes for ceremony and ritual. There is symbolism with masks that represent the “masks” we wear every day. The person we show to the outside world can be very different to what is going on internally. This process could be seen in its highest form as a burial of an old self and resurrection of the new self. It is an intense project and not for the faint at heart. Especially for those who have been wearing a certain mask for a long time as Hinz and Ragsdell (1990) found in their study with bulimic women. However, if I were to convince an administration that a certain group of creative intelligent, strong individuals where in a stage of their therapeutic process and were able to handle this AT directive I would propose the following:
1. Mask making has the potential to help the client move from an old persona to a new one. Masks can reveal or conceal. They can protect from the outside or reveal a new identity. They can help a client try on a “new face” with peers to “test the waters” before showing this new vulnerability to the world. Masks can be a terrific fantasy expression in bringing the subconscious to the surface. It can also be celebratory, in a ritual of achievement or initiation.
2 I propose mask making group therapy over several sessions. Group therapy offsets the cost of buying bandages in bulk. It justifies the set-up and clean-up and setting aside a relatively large room with a sink nearby to be reserved for this occasion. For approximately $150.00 which includes, large bottles of paint, a variety of brushes and a box of bandages, this project could help 10 or more individuals in a therapeutic setting.
3. Not only would a group setting be more cost effective it would add to role playing and other creative expression once the masks were made.
My mask represents two sides of me. When a person views my mask they would see one eye closed and one eye opened. They may not see that right away as half of the face is covered with red netting. I tried to make the mask relatively realistic, though the medium doesn’t lend itself to that, because of the coarseness of the plaster bandage. As much as I sanded it and tried to fill in the crevices with paint the face appears pock marked as if I had bad acne as a teen. Nonetheless, the mask gives a sort of serious, solemn demeanor. I debated whether to let my whimsical side come through, but I decided to try to be as honest as possible.
The red netting represents the bondage I have felt from others in my past however, the peacock feather placed outside the netting represents my intuition, my spiritual side that has been my strength. The eye closed behind the mask, represents not only that bondage, but also looking within, which that bondage forced me to do. The two sides also represent past and future. The uncovered side looks out to the future with hope and promise.
I was very uncomfortable both applying the mask to my partner and having the mask applied. Before we started I was very apprehensive. I was worried that I wasn’t going fast enough for my partner and I worried for her internal processing. Though my partner didn’t exhibit any discomfort, in fact, communicated in writing that she was fine and encouraged me, I
was still uncomfortable. I didn’t like getting her all messy. I didn’t like being responsible for her mask, in fact, I feel I did a terrible job for her because I rushed and was nervous. In a way, I manifested my fear, I was worried about doing a bad job and I did, and probably made more of a mess for her. (In the end, her mask looked great and was able to sand it into submission) I am not used to working with someone else in my artwork. I have always been uncomfortable creating in a crowd or group. If someone asked me to demonstrate at an art fair, the only way I would do it is I had an almost complete piece and did the final touches. Interestingly, as a private art teacher demonstrating, I don’t have that apprehension at all.
On the receiving end of the mask making, it was hard to trust someone I barely know, to cover my face in a hardening medium. I have taken a mud bath in Calestoga, CA. and remember having to get over the whole "being buried in alive" reaction. Stepping into a vat of heavy warm mud and then having it applied to your face and shoulders was quite an experience. Because this was new, in a classroom setting, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel once I had my eyes and mouth covered. I have worked with plaster before, and I remembered it got hot, so I expected to feel a suffocating feeling. The plaster felt cool, and I knew I could take the mask off at any time if I had to. I did ask my partner through writing to please hurry, I didn’t care if it was sloppy, and I just wanted to get done. As a much older student, I’m already a bit insecure about my age and the way I look as I grow older. Though I see most of my fellow students as my daughters--as a woman I didn’t like being that vulnerable covered in Vaseline and without makeup.When I admitted that to myself , I chastised myself immediately for being so superficial. I feel pretty certain, if I were in my twenties it wouldn’t be as bad, because then, I was free spirited and liked challenges. I may have even seen it like a spa as some of the other students may have. Now life has knocked me down so much, I’m a little uneasy on my feet, and find I am much more sensitive. The experience almost felt medical, it reminded me of all the things that a friend of mine had gone through. It was hard enough imagining him in a full body cast, now I had a bit of an experience in a facial cast and frankly, I don’t know how he did it.
As much as the mask as a symbol seems like an obvious metaphor, the process was what made this experience revealing.
To read more about Mask-Making including a brief history:
Dunn-Snow PhD, ATR-BC, Peggy and & Susan Joy-Smellie BA, CCLS (2000): Teaching Art Therapy Techniques: Mask-making, A Case in Point, Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 17:2, 125-131