The mask’s never-ending mystery

Whether hiding, revealing or even creating a new identity, the history of masks is as old as the world itself. «The Mystery of the Mask,» a refreshing exhibition currently on display at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, offers a contemporary take of an ancient tool. Showcasing the work of artists, designers and craftsmen, the exhibition initially opened in Amsterdam in 2001. Whether part of a ritual, an accessory or even a plaything for children and adults, the show points to the fact that these objects are open to interpretation. The show originally developed when Paul Derrez, the owner of Amsterdam’s Ra gallery, began planning the establishment’s 25 anniversary. Given his own fascination with masks, Derrez invited 50 artists to come up with their own take, resulting in a broad range of views and attitudes. At the Athenian museum the show is divided into five themes, ranging from religion to romance all the way to carnival. There is Maria Blaisse, who uses a piece of gauze to play with facial shapes and forms; Michael Brennand-Wood’s «Simulacra» mask, made of wood, acrylic and wax, with references to tattoos and woodblocks; Johanna Dahm’s «I Spy With My Little Eye,» a «reverse» mask made of silver; Karl Fritsch’s bare, paper and patinated copper «No Statement»; Therese Hilbert’s silver nose called «The World»; Janke Ijff’s elegant mask made of rubber and feathers; Esther Knobel’s mask in the form of a chair, titled «Passive-Aggressive,» a reference to unending tensions in her native Israel; Lia De Sain’s «Gilded Cage,» a mask which protects your thoughts, and Derrez’s own «Power Play,» an exploration of daily contradictions in thoughts and emotions. History From ancient Greek theater to Italy’s traveling Commedia dell’Arte in the 16th and 17th centuries, through ancient Egypt and the Celts, masks have had a dominant role; in the fifth century BC, for example, masks offered actors the opportunity to play a succession of characters, while challenging them to use voice and body language. They were made of clay, wood or even cloth. Later on, in 14th century Japan, wood-carved Noh masks were used to reflect the mood of the role interpreted by the actor. Masks are less visible on stage these days, but they do appear on film – often given a new spin through the use of technology: In Chuck Russell’s 1994 movie «The Mask,» for example, a clumsy bank clerk transforms himself into a popular ladies’ man when he puts one on. In Jonathan Demme’s «Silence of the Lambs» of 1991, Dr Hannibal Lecter is forced into submission through the use of a mask – but not for long. In Stanley Kubrick’s last body of work, 1999’s «Eyes Wide Shut,» masks cover the faces of those participating in an orgy. In the show’s catalog (a small publication under the title «Maskerade»), Derrez talks about his own fascination with the subject: the sense of anonymity, the sexual element, how masks can be fitting in transitional situations – think of a bride’s veil, for instance, when she is taken from one chapter of her life to the next – through one single move, as well as the idea of life and death – throughout history, masks became the links between the two states of existence. What kind of masks do we wear today in our daily lives? Certainly spectacles and sunglasses, not to mention gas masks in emergency situations. During a recent guided tour of the exhibition, Derrez talked about his own experiences when wearing a mask: At a party once, the object became a barrier between him and the other guests. It was only after he removed it that Derrez found himself mingling again. Clearly, the mystery of the mask continues. Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, 12 Kallisperi Street, Acropolis, tel 210.922.1044. The exhibition runs to December 20.