On this day of all days for disguise, I stalk the streets in awe of feathered headdresses and gory flesh wounds, yet the piece that truly causes me to stumble is not the hand-sewn sequin bodysuit, but instead the simple, powerful deception of a mask. From the theater of Ancient Greece to the rituals of Malawi, Japanese dance to burials in the Andes, the mask is an object unequivocally both universal and timeless. Halloween only comes once a year, but the mask emerges for healers, carnival performers, wrestlers, and executioners all year round. When it comes to mask fascination, I know I am not alone.
So what is it about this item that is so core-penetratingly frightening? When I reach for a beer at the office party and my neighbor turns, suddenly anonymous and faceless, I can no longer recognize, I can no longer connect. The face is our tool of expression, and thus, I initially conclude, the mask is our tool of concealment. There are secrets beneath this piece, I am sure of it, there is a truth hidden.
When I see this same masked coworker slipping outside for a covert cigarette break, no longer am I confronted by a disguised identity, but in its place, a new performance. I had been focusing so intently on what was concealed behind the mask, I had neglected to acknowledge what was created. Masks have long been incorporated into theatrical arts, and for good reason — masquerade in itself is about the transformation. Is the mask unnerving not for what we repress, but for what we release? I have seen those scuffed high-tops before, but am caught off guard by the grotesque plastic grin. Between the familiar and the strange, we share a moment of revelation unique to this evening. We are not ourselves, but we are not not ourselves, either. We have expressed a new, liminal identity, certain of only one thing: terror.
Happy Halloween, our lovely readers!