Sunday, November 3, 2013

After Thoughts on American Masks

After Thoughts on American Masks 
by Mary Power

Performed COMPASSIONS 2018 at NOH Space SF, CA
Updated 11/2/19

Many Americans have seen historical masks of Japan, Ancient Africa, Maya, etc.  Those are revered, exalted in museums, considered art in homes and in dances, as exotic, powerful, even frightening.  But what of the American mask, not Native American mask, but the mask of our combined diversity of what is today called America?  It’s not like we don’t have masks. We do. We may not like what we see because our masks evolve from the film genre of horror.  (A Brief History of Horror Literature by Kristin Masters Oct. 24, 2013

In part I. Soul Dust, in the piece called Figures, we dance-sculpted implications and inferences about whatever an American audience might see in the shapes while suggestive about our global planetary experience.  Thoughts were alive on stage, in an amorphous science fiction.  In Figures we confronted the discomfiture of truth in the American shadow.  The MotherPeace/MotherWar installation was unavoidably center stage. The audience as witness had the courage to stay and witness.  The performance was stunningly artistic and it was playful, soulful. The only line spoken in Soul Dust Figures “So look who’s having a baby,” was funny. Maybe because the entire piece was so unexpected, no one laughed, which was hilarious to the performers because it was a moment of sheer satire. 

The masks acted as catalyst, a jolt into the looking glass of an American taboo that never wants to witness its own horrible accumulation of disregard, on any scale. 

If we were trying to shock the audience, the only more naked we could get would have been to dance nude with the American horror masks.  We didn’t plan a revelation.  But our use of horror masks with dance fulfilled this purpose, revealing the American blind spot.  It all came through our collaboration and the impact of our performances.  After the show was complete, more and more meaning clarified.  It would seem that we identified the American mask.  We debuted its revelations on stage through art dance and performance.  These incredible masks were handmade by Bart Frescura.  My mask was a smile melting off its face.  Elaine’s mask was a smile melting up. Dancers Elaine Santos and Mary Power performed striking dance of distortion. It was modern art.

Who would ever approve of this type of performance with American horror masks in dance?  It was non- traditional. In 2018 and 2019, not so much approval or disproval, even though by this time we had increasing domestic gun violence and death in America, more NRA sellouts to pro-Kremlim money, too many senseless murders of innocent African Americans killed by police, not far away from the wake of  9/11 and the unnecessary Iraq war and water boarding torture, and we’ve betrayed the Kurds to a genocide, and before that, and before that.  Now, with the prospect of fascism, identified domestic terrorism of White Supremacy, Asylum seekers tortured by family separation and babies in cages, unstoppable full on racist rants that incite violence and death fomented by a would-be American king—maybe now the American mask of horror can be understood.  Will we be able to face ourselves?

We Americans are unaware of our collective identity as humans in America and the planet, to the extent that the comfort of greed gets in our way slowing the immediacy of our awareness and action.  This can’t be happening but it is.  Our numbness justifies, it obfuscates, it allows for investments to cling to a delusion of permanence. As devastation increases without action, climate change is the oil economy in denial.  In this century, each natural disaster strikes mega-blows at once creating climate refugees.  When devastation takes everything, there’s not much left to lose.

The wait for the destruction of an outdated conceptual framework of normal is unnecessary.  But lingers because we have lived for so long in an insatiable greed of discontent. It shows up in odd ways.  In awkward jokes about how our machines murder innocent wildlife in a repetitive wake of traffic.  Some think that’s funny.  Like that is the best we can do as humans, as Americans. 

As we move forward, are we going to be able to confront ourselves, the horror of our past and present?  If we don’t look away, we may be able to choose our future selves.  Masks are usually thought to hide the real face.  But in this case, they reveal our blind spot.

A garland of these masks were integral to the installation MOTHERpeace/MOTHERwar.  It’s not with ease that we confront the truth about ourselves.  We have blind spots and edges. At times we are too excessively harsh on ourselves and on others.