BARCELONA — It was not till after I’d watched Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance a number of occasions over that I spotted she had remained seated at some point of the efficiency: nothing about the best way Wigman snaps her limbs and claws on the air may moderately be referred to as constrained. Nor was it instantly obvious that the dancer was carrying a masks — although this, admittedly, owes one thing to the graininess of the century-old footage. For Wigman, whose expressionist model channeled the anxieties of post-World Struggle I Europe, masks have been important to her exploration of the grotesque and the otherworldly. As she would later state, the masks “consistently modifications throughout the dance. It breathes and lives like a residing face inside its frozen type.”
The paradox highlighted by Wigman’s quote lies on the coronary heart of The Masks By no means Lies, which runs on the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona via Might 1 and seeks to supply a world view of the historical past and politics of masking. Although masks are popularly conceived of as limiting expression — assume Comedy and Tragedy frozen in unchanging shows of utmost, caricatured emotion — the exhibition suggests, counterintuitively, that in essential methods they permit their wearers to entry a variety of feelings, of which the human face alone is incapable. It’s an concept that comes via clearly within the gallery dedicated to lucha libre, the place the presenter of a documentary on the game asserts that with out its signature masks it might be a lot much less expressive. Removed from being static, in different phrases, masks are richly polysemic: humorous, mysterious, hanging, intimidating, and theatrical — typically abruptly.
The CCCB’s present comes because the modern affiliation of face coverings with COVID-19 security tips — and the entire heated political dust-ups attendant upon them — has not solely flattened the best way we generally perceive masks however has in some sense inverted it. Whereas masks have traditionally been used to frighten spirits and people alike, the gallery textual content notes that immediately “it’s the naked face that disturbs and causes fear.” On this context, The Masks By no means Lies goals to supply a imaginative and prescient of masks and masking far richer than the slender pro-vs.-anti arguments of the pandemic: from evocations of the religious to devices of terror, from symbols of social ills to instruments of insurgent fighters, from indicators of belonging to indelible marks of outsider standing.
One of many principal historic threads explored within the exhibition is the masking follow of the Ku Klux Klan, which grew out of Carnival traditions of costuming and initially may embody extra overtly bestial parts akin to horns and bits of fur. Ties between Carnival and the Klan have been deep: these tasked with drumming up funds for the vacation celebrations have been incessantly additionally Klan members, whereas Klansmen’s violence in opposition to Black neighborhood members was typically reenacted on parade floats to entertain the white inhabitants. Because the historian Elaine Frantz Parsons remarks in a documentary screened within the gallery, Black individuals singled out for Klan assaults usually acknowledged their assailants regardless of their disguises; on this context, the Klansmen’s hoods have been meant to not present anonymity however relatively to demarcate the boundary between their wearers’ regular “gentlemanly” identification and the violence they perpetrated beneath cowl of evening. If Carnival and the carnivalesque usually seek advice from an interval throughout which the prevailing social order is raucously upended, the CCCB exhibition appears to recommend that, at the least in the US, Carnival was a time throughout which the racial hierarchy was merely additional entrenched.
The Masks By no means Lies is at its most intriguing when it’s most subversive: charting how numerous grassroots and subcultural actions have used masks to elude detection, mock authority, and sign unanimous opposition to the powers that be. Artifacts within the exhibition discover figures and actions starting from the animal-masked rebels of New York State’s Anti-Hire Struggle to Superbarrio Gómez, the superhero-activist who fights for housing rights in Mexico Metropolis; from the neon-balaclava-sporting members of Pussy Riot to the 1999 Carnival In opposition to Capitalism, whose individuals donned paper Mardi Gras masks and stuffed the streets of London to clog its monetary engines. Via dialing up the theatricality of political expression, these teams expose the falsities and dramatics — and, sure, the masks — which can be a part of even the tamer, extra mainstream facet of political discourse.
Sharp in its evaluation and catholic in its scope, The Masks By no means Lies challenges viewers to take silliness significantly, to know protecting one’s face as an assertion of identification, to look previous a hard and fast expression and see a mess of meanings. As facial recognition expertise and mass knowledge assortment present regulation enforcement with more and more highly effective instruments in opposition to the anonymity of faces within the crowd, the CCCB’s investigations into masking might tackle growing relevance for activists across the globe: what can masks do past merely hiding, and the way we’d harness these powers for our personal ends?
The Masks By no means Lies continues on the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (Carrer de Montalegre, 5, 08001, Barcelona, Spain) via Might 1. The exhibition was curated by Servando Rocha and Jordi Costa.