Spiritual Masks

spookie (nik@websciences.org)
Sun, 18 May 1997 15:54:11 -0800

What are Spiritual Masks?

Jean Cocteau said 'Art is a lie which tells the truth.'

This is the genesis of the notion of Spiritual Masks. Masks to express
one's spiritual self. Not masks to cover 'imperfection' - not make-up,
rather masks which allow one to express who they are and who they wish to
be. Symbols for the dream self.

The idea of Spiritual Masks is very loosely based on the teachings of Carl
Jung, who believed there was an unconscious struggle between the individual
and society and used symbolism to explore this phenomena. Jung's
unconscious being that portion of the psyche which lies outside conscious
awareness. The unconscious expresses itself through dreams, fantasies,
'Freudian' slips and the like. Jung distinguishes two layers of the
unconscious: the personal unconscious derived from one's own experience,
and the collective unconscious containing the universal patterns and images
called archetypes. Our collective unconscious appears through our "persona"
("actor's mask" in Latin) It is the partially calculated public face an
individual assumes in relating to others. The persona is derived from the
expectations of society and early childhood training. Conforming to the
mores of society is useful both in facilitating contact with others and
being part of the tribe, but can inhibiting when one completely identifies
with it.

Jung believed that we have a "shadow self", like a 'dark side' which
harbors our more primal ideas and impulses. Most would act on them, given
the chance. Most of us repress our shadow, or feel guilty when we "let it
out" - feeling that this part of our being is like an 'evil twin.' However,
Jung believed we should confront our shadow, explore it and make friends
with it, and that doing so would bring sweet rewards. He thought that our
shadows can help us understand our motivations, inspire us to new
thoughts, and become a source of invigorating inspiration.

The exploration of one's shadow can then become a process of
"individuation." The conscious realization and fulfillment of one's unique
being. It is associated with unconscious imagery and leads to the
experiencing of the Self as the center of the personality, transcending the
ego. It begins by challenging egocentricity, producing the awareness that
the ego is subordinate to a more comprehensive psychic entity - the Self.
Coming to terms with one's Self - of which one's shadow is a part -leads
one to be more centered in responding to social mores, ideals and norms.
Actions not driven entirely by Ego.

A desire to begin a process of challenging egocentricity begs the question
of how does one go about exploring shadows. This is where Spiritual Masks
come into play imagery to mirror the Self. Sometimes a mask can allow more
of ourselves to come out by hiding other parts and leaving us less
vulnerable. Masks which allow one to paint a tear when sad, and warpaint
when angry.

Art can allow one to assume roles outside of one's 'Self' - and in so doing
see oneself through a stranger's eyes. Dance, photography, illustration,
modeling, theatre all allow one to step in to a surreal playground.

I'll end with an example of the application of spiritual masks to art. I
was born in Rio, where as many people know there is Carnival every year.
Carnival is in essence a spiritual mask fest. People take on roles that are
normally denied them. Often, a very masculine man, may dress up as a woman
or the poor of the favela's go as kings and queens. Choosing roles which
are very much a part of them denied.

In ballet, dancers also assume roles - but these roles are fixed. If one
is doing sleeping beauty then there are set characters for princess Aurora,
the fairy Mountain Ash, Marshall Cantalabutte and the like. A
choreographer taking a spiritual mask approach to a ballet would allow the
dancers to design their own characters and weave the story together along
those lines.

I'm interested in three questions:

1. What do people think their shadows are?

2. By what means do people think shadows can be explored? I'm particularly
interested in the interrelation of art and masks to explore one's shadows.

3. How can technology be used to explore masks?

Anyways, I'm babbling but those interested in seeing examples of spiritual
masks in photoillustration, or would like to comment on the mask concept,
please see:


~ the dnc project - dance, networks, computing


saudade brasil


~ the geek page


In Paris They simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never
did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.
Mark Twain, The Innocent Abroad, 1869

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