Masks as Therapy
Masks as Therapy, and the practice of artistic mask making, such as the Northwest Coast Indian mask above, is apparently not new. In March of last year, I wrote a post about ancient masks, suggesting perhaps they may have been the first “selfies.” My purpose in jesting was to get people to think outside of Halloween, so to speak.
Those recently discovered masks, which were discussed in the above post, were 9,000 years old, and easy to make suggestive statements about them. Masks, however, have been made in many cultures for many reasons: protection, disguise or masquerade, sacred or ceremonial uses, entertainment, for storytelling and teaching, and for certain spiritual or psychological reasons.
Alaskan Native women, for instance, use finger masks to teach small children about their culture. In the 16th century, European women in the business of prostitution often wore masks, which irritated their clients (for obvious reasons). In the 18th century, colonial women wore masks to protect their identity or to protect their faces from sun damage. The intimate meanings of the artistic practices of mask making anciently are not well understood.
We can only surmise meanings or uses, making assumptions from present-day uses of masks by various cultures or ethnic groups. Masks may be made for the face or made to cover the front of the whole body. They can be made to resemble real people, animals, or deities. The Northwest Coast Indians of America conduct native ceremonies, using masks (like the one above). Some scholars have wondered about the therapeutic values of such ceremonies. This idea seems particularly noteworthy today because artistic mask-making has a new reality offered in the recent National Geographic article, “Healing Our Soldiers.”
The article, by Caroline Alexander, is about brain injuries resulting from explosive trauma in today’s wars. She describes how such injuries are being healed with the art of mask making. Read and listen to the personal stories of real soldiers, in real time. Click through the 48 masks made by soldiers suffering from blast-event brain injuries. You may need to copy (Control C) and paste (Control V) the link into your browser.