Thursday, November 8, 2012

Behind the Mask Tradition

I think Kate's challenge is going to be a more difficult assignment for me.  First, I've been exploring other people's use of masks to establish a foundation.  I think I'll postpone looking at my own personal use of masks until I'm a bit better grounded in masks in general.
Shinja (True Snake) horrific and powerful serpent-woman
I started with Noh to which I was introduced as a teenager living in Japan.  In Noh, the classical Japanese theater, the many characters are usually masked, with men playing both the male and female roles.

I didn't 'get' it then apparently, because as I research it now, there's much that is dazzling.  Well, it would have been dazzling to a teen, had that teen been paying better attention:  Who knew that Shinja (above) was a WOMAN!  Yikes, that put a whole different spin on the performances I remember.

I understood that Ko-omote was a beautiful young woman.  

Ko-omote ('Cute' young woman)


Okina in full costume: Dance begins with recitation of a poem celebrating erotic love
I'm sure I rolled my eyes when someone informed me that the poem and dance by the Okina character was erotic.

Decades later, I became interested in Australian Aboriginal art where body painting and decoration has deep spiritual significance.

Contemporary Aboriginal woman in ceremony

Usually the designs, painted with ground ochres and pipeclay and, sometimes accentuated with feathers, are motifs used to denote social position and relationships to family, totem, ancestor and land.  The individual can become totally transformed in the process and actually 'become' their ancestor spirit.

Tiwi man ready for ceremony

In both Aboriginal and Noh masking forms, the traditions are rather rigidly codified and regulated by the institutions, with innovation being disapproved of.

After this research, I might be ready to proceed to 'masks' as they apply to me on a more personal, and complicated, level.  Thanks, Kate...I think.


  1. Interesting research!
    Just to clarify so no one feels confined to real (physical) masks or costumes: You can interpret the concept of deception, masquerade, play acting, alter egos etc. any way you want. :-)
    I hope you end up having fun with it!

  2. Oh, I'm just poking around looking for a facet that I'd be willing to reveal on a blog post instead of a therapist's couch...;^)