Behind the Mask

By Erin Bassler

Not everyone who wears a mask has something to hide.

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Masks can be found everywhere in the world — they are a timeless tradition that has been used for disguise and celebration alike. To don a mask is to become someone new or to honor the traditions of the past and present. They are works of art, meant to be shared and viewed just as much as any painting or sculpture.

Therefore, among the highlights of 2016 Student Art Exhibit, located at Worcester State University, there are four such masks decorating the walls. Each is unique and specially crafted in order to bring a taste of another culture to a shared space, where many creative works of notice have been to life by students with a passion for the arts.

The artists of the masks — Midaly Delgado, Stefanie Appleby, Carla Betances, and Paulina Wasik, made their creations in the class Creating Cultural Forms with Professor Susan Fisher.

The course offered students the opportunity to work with various art techniques such as blind contouring — a drawing exercise that forces the artist to keep their eyes off their work and focus on the subject. Ceramics and pottery were practiced as well, forming the basis for the artist’s featured piece.

The process of mask-making is a long and involved one. First, a skeleton is made out of cardboard in order to have an outline of what the final piece will look like. Then comes the plastering, where true patience is put to the test. At least eight hours alone are spent filling the mold and waiting for the layers to dry. Counting the hours may be the most sluggish part of the process, but after getting through it, the artist gets to the fun part — painting.

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“I loved it because it’s so nice when you have it built, the way you start seeing it come to life the way you envisioned it, that’s when you get really excited,” said Delgado.

However, the making of the masks involved a trial that nearly every kind of artist eventually falls victim to — being completely satisfied with your work.

“My artistic process mainly involves me doing the entire project, realizing I hate it, and starting all over again. Which I did about three times with this mask,” Appleby explained.

Each artist took her inspiration from one of many famous festivals from around the world in order to create a singular work of art that was both presentable and purposeful. Delgado, for example, recreated one of the vibrant masks from the Mexican Day of the Dead, while Appleby crafted an elegant mask for the Venetian Carnival hosted in Venice, Italy.

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“During the celebration masks were worn so that there was no social stratification based solely on appearance. Anonymity is a concept we are familiar with today, with all of our modern technology. So seeing this same concept displayed so long ago really speaks to the humanity behind all of it,” Appleby explained.

She worked so that her art would represent a relatable connection between modern and historic behaviors. Appleby’s mask reflects equality, accepting the good and the bad on a much more social social network.

Meanwhile Delgado’s mask is meant to capture the ethnic significance of the Day of the Dead with various colors and symbolism. Her mask illustrates individuality and spectacle in an already colorful crowd.

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“It’s a big impact. For the Day of the Dead, people either paint their faces or wear masks. In that particular region, it’s a way to honor and represent the dead. It’s a way to physically explain their culture,” Delgado states.

Appleby and Delgado, along with their classmates Betances and Wasik, have earned their place amongst their peers in Worcester State’s Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Gallery. Creating Cultural Forms has not only provided the artists with the opportunity to express their creativity in new and interesting ways, but patrons have the chance to learn the depth behind a disguise beyond superheroes and the occasional alluring Spanish outlaw that we see on the big screen.

Still, whether it’s to hide, to blend in, or to announce your presence in the grandest fashion imaginable, a mask will always send a message.

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