Monday, September 07, 2015

The Kissing Mask

The Kissing Mask was first performed at the Seattle Art Museum as part of the opening night of Disguise: Masks and Global African Art curated by Pam McClusky & Erika Dalya Massaquoi.    

The Kissing Mask is a performance inspired by one of ruby onyinyechi amanze's drawings. The drawing is titled:

that low hanging kind of sun, the one that lingers two feet above your head, (never dying) house plants in exchange for your freedom...orchids in exchange for your love, who are you kissing, when you kiss a mask?

I was particularly drawn to this question: who are you kissing, when you kiss a mask? For the performance I have created a mask [which riffs off of amanze's drawing].  I sit on a plinth over the course of the evening and kiss audience members who approach me. These may be cheek, face or lip kisses.

Photograph: John Rudolph

The Kissing Mask reconnects the 'artifact' to the present moment by proposing an intimate act between artist, mask and viewer. As such, this performance complicates and dismantles the mask as sacred object or historical relic by making use of it on a living body [that of the artist/performer]. The performance also becomes a vehicle to speak about what constitues intimacy, touch, and connection. What do we share with and show to our family, friends and strangers? Does a mask offer a space to negotiate that intimacy outside of society's rules? Does the mask come alive only through the audience? Or simply the artist? Or, is it always charged? Do the intentions of the wearer and/or viewer affect the power and pull of the object?

amanze writes further about her drawing:

when i think about kissing a mask i think about kissing something that isn't. something that is blocking you from the thing that you understand is like you. something that is a disguise. but so perfectly, that it's becomes its own thing. a mask is a mask. and it's inanimate 90% of the time. but can be charged in the right hands. or on the right body. i wondered in that drawing about kissing this relic. this stolen, no longer charged representation of africa. kissing it to revive it. kissing it to see what africa tasted like. kissing it because you're in love. with this thing. or with what this thing is trying to be. or is in your head. or none of the above. maybe it was just this woman ghost kissing merman who had on a mask.

In my own work I often use masks to interrupt present time and create space or claim power. The mask is an opening, a way to claim physical, social or liminal space. But, I am also interested in how this particular mask and performance [in true trickster fashion] might simply be 'none of the above', an object completely devoid of the sacred or reverent.

Other work that I am thinking about with regard to this performance includes: James Luna [The Artifact Piece,1986], Tracey Rose [The Kiss, 2001], and Lorna Simpson [Flipside, 1991].

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