Who Is Behind The Mask?

by: Debra Danilewitz

Debra Danilewitz is the School Counselor at Bialik Hebrew Day School in Toronto. She has written two books, David goes to Play Therapy and Memories and Reflections of my School Years. In this article, she describes an art project which brings a metaphor to life.

The masks we wear

The art of revealing and concealing ourselves is necessary in order to protect and nurture ourselves. However, we need to be genuine, honest, and real to ourselves and to others for healthy relationships to ensue. Look at the face you wear and come to terms with who you are. A mask is the face we present to the world, the top layer of our personality, and our expression in society. Often, the refined self is confused with our true self. We play different roles and express certain aspects of our personality, carved out by family, friends, culture, and society.

Pretending is an art that is second nature to many of us. We often give impressions of who we are – that we are secure and unruffled – but within and underneath, we feel the turmoil or lack of confidence.

Look at what I’m hiding. Look at what you cannot see.

The faces we wear, as we often wear masks, often fool people. We wear a thousand masks, masks that we are afraid to take off, and none of them are us. Underneath our masks we reveal the real person who we are with all of our complex ideas, we often create masks to hide behind. We have many roles and expectations to fulfill and present on the surface in many different ways. What lies beneath are often hidden emotions that are difficult to access. We have the need to be accepted, and often a glance or two at one’s face reveals something, but there is often more that is hidden that needs to be revealed. However, we are careful not to reveal too much for fear of being rejected. So we sometimes pretend or put on a facade and parade a myriad of masks to show to the world. It becomes a front, so we need to be aware that we often appear to present in one form, with one face or mask, but the different layers can be peeled to reveal different faces or moods. See what we present to the world, but also look at what is not being presented, what is hidden.

Mask Making

Art is a creative process and a wonderful outlet for students, as it allows for them to express their feelings, enabling them to access parts of their inner emotions that are often difficult to reach and explain in narrative form. Through art, the creative flow allows for thoughts and ideas to come to the surface .The simple means of creating a mask produces such richness, and this unfolding process allows the student to be free to create something that reflects what they are experiencing inside of themselves – this, in itself, is very therapeutic. The students attribute meaning to the images they create for their mask. One student used stripes of bright colors for her mask and shaped it like a flag, her flag, as she felt she was unique, and said she did this because she felt there are many parts of her that she liked and she had so many interests that she enjoyed.

I will briefly describe a process of making masks as a tool for upper elementary students to begin to explore who they are and what they project. In this process, students will:

  • Create a mask reflecting themselves.
  • Understand the concept of a mask revealing and concealing aspects of the self.
  • Make a mask representing their interests, personality, stage of development, and inner thoughts.
  • Enjoy the creative process of self-expression.
  • Resist the temptation to be perfect when trying to make a mask representative of themselves.

Materials:

  • Pieces of canvas or squares of mirror
  • Acrylic paint
  • Beads, feathers, flowers, raffia
  • Glue gun

Art Process:

Students can use a mask canvas template or create their own design out of canvas. Alternatively they paint their masks on a square mirror 15cm by 15cm.

Students then use acrylic paint to design their mask, and once it is dry, they glue on raffia, feathers and or beads to personalize their pieces. They then write a reflection on both the process of making their mask and the symbolism of their mask for them. In a follow up lesson, the students share their piece with the class, after which the masks are put on display to guess who is behind the mask.

This lesson serves as a great introduction to the discovery of the self, and opens up an arena for students to reflect upon themselves and share in a group situation how the masks represent themselves at this stage in their development. The art process is also discussed as some students find it hard to create something about themselves. That, in itself, is telling of the students’ emotional readiness to recognize and reveal aspects of themselves. When the students use the mirror to paint a mask on, there is an added dimension of reflection during the process, as the students see their own faces while they are painting on the mirror.

What the mask reveals and conceals

Many issues of early adolescence and identity formation are illuminated through this projective technique of mask making. The confusion, insecurity, hopefulness, beauty, brilliance of color, shadows, and optimism are all reflected in different combinations for each student in their mask. The kaleidoscope of masks reflects the myriad of different aspects of each student that manifests in their creative pieces. By learning to express themselves authentically, they gradually remove their own masks. Students discover different facets about themselves when they connect with their inner feelings to the components of the mask. They treasure their creative masks and really love this experiential learning. The written reflections on their masks, which are in both English and Hebrew, invite feedback from peers in class.

Teachers often wonder what happens to the material that they teach once it has been taught. Thus feedback from students is important to ascertain that teaching has been internalized, learnt and applied. I often encounter students after they have left elementary school and they inform me that they still have their masks, and they recount the details of their mask and what it meant to them then. A student who is now at university studying education when I met up with her again told me that she remembered making her mask look like a maze as she felt at the time that there were so many areas of herself that she needed to explore and wasn’t sure which way to go and was trying to find her way. Another student painted her mask gold as she said it reflected her positive bold attitude.

This lesson is especially relevant to teach at the time of Purim, so that students are able to make the connection of what we reveal and what we conceal about ourselves, and the concept of hiding our true selves. It is, with the story of Purim where we see that God is hidden and not mentioned in the Megillah, and Esther hides and does not reveal her true self in order to protect herself and others. This is a relevant and meaningful link into the Jewish curriculum and a great active and memorable learning experience for the students.

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