"My mask is called Higher Self. I found it ironic that the mask making came at a time when I realized I had unmasked a lot of other stuff in my life. This is a new mask, this is my Higher Self now."
- Freesia, Behind the Mask Participant
Behind the Mask is a community driven public art process that uses handmade masks as a way to build community, find healing, and explore self. By designing and wearing a mask, participants are given the opportunity to present society with an internal, alternate, or imagined part of themselves. The mask creates a unique space - both expressive and anonymous - to share oneself with the world.
Together, 10 participants from the Vernon community came together in an intimate three-part workshop series that included round circle sharing, journaling, mask-making, and creative character development. These workshops created intentional and safe spaces to listen, learn, and share one another’s stories - putting care and relationship building at the centre of this process. Each participant selected 1 out of 25 small portrait paintings depicting different emotions that lead artist Katie Green had prepared; this portrait would be the foundation for their mask. While some portraits elicit feelings of calmness and ease, others create sensations of emotional discomfort such as grief and anger. Depending on which portrait the participant selects, their unique emotional reaction will guide them towards the self they wish to explore. From here, following a technique using woven cardboard, they will build a mask form onto which they will paper mache a paper print of their selected portrait. The result is a unique mask that translates their vision of self. Together we explored how each individual relates to their selected portrait, asking questions such as, "how does this portrait make you feel?", "If this character could speak to you, what would it say?", and "If there was a part of you that could be more visible in the outer world, what would it be?"
Photoshoots give participants the opportunity to wear and embody their mask, exploring aspects of self in front of the camera. Depending on the character development exercises in the workshop phase, the participant chooses their own costuming and environment.
This project was created in collaboration with social worker and Harm Reduction Program Coordinator, Sarah Lilemo of Turning Points Collaborative Society, artist Katie Green and the Vernon Public Art Gallery. With the support of Sarah, this mask-making project was presented to a peer support group at Cammy LaFluer Street Outreach Program and received curious feedback from 8 participants who wanted to be involved. Additionally, this group of participants includes one participant from the Vernon Public Art Gallery and staff of Turning Points.