who is that masked (wo)man?

I was thinking about this picture after coming across it, the simple black mask, the connotations that come along with it from our films and literature, the mix of androgyny and femininity in that classic black shape, eyes shining through. The simultaneous hiding and posing of a very famous face in particular.

I was wondering what it all meant, very liberal-arts-college-art-history-style, and then I realized it’s almost Carnevale here in Italy. Martedi Grasso (Mardi Gras) is on February 16th, so in some larger cities the festivities leading up to it are already starting now. The biggest one is in Venice, whose elaborate Carnevale masks are a well-known art form in themselves, at least here in Italy. I’ve always wanted to see Carnevale for myself, and since I’m fairly close, maybe this is the year to do it. It’s meant to be as crowded and crazy as New Year’s at Times Square though. I asked an Italian friend and he shook his head, “I wouldn’t, it’s insane.”

I was drawn in to this picture, and to the idea of Carnevale, and maybe I’ve always been unconsciously drawn to these types of ideas, and masked figures. I wrote my college thesis, for my BA in Spanish Literature, on Don Juan, which probably reveals a little too much about my priorities in life. In the original tale, he turns peoples lives upside down with just a mask, a lie, a half-truth. He is the classic masked character, using disguises both literal and linguistic to deceive, get his own way, and get into all kinds of trouble. Many have followed after; a favorite of mine was the film “Don Juan de Marco,” but there are also those silly Zorro films, the Lone Ranger, even Amelie. That scene when Romeo and Juliette first meet. Something about this connects not just with me, but clearly with many people. But why?

Maybe masks are important to all of us, even though we live in a society that values honesty and transparency so highly – maybe that just heightens our fascination with obscuring some things, at least at certain times.

I’ve met some people here recently who keep a bit of a mask up – maybe they don’t even realize they do it, we’re too busy with our course most of the time to really get to know each other very well. They’re not deliberately secretive, but rather not easily forthcoming about their lives, their pasts, who they are. But something obscured, even casually, just makes us want to know it all the more. We assume there’s some big story there, something worth knowing, hiding in the shadows of the things left unsaid. It’s the basis, rightly or wrongly, of the whole “feminine mystique” thing, leaving something to the imagination.

Yet there’s something that seems so fun about literally covering our faces, those things we usually have represent us so directly to the world. Just two bright eyes peeking out of the black, it seems like a secret in itself. Maybe it’s the idea of playing the part of having something to hide, a bandit in disguise, but just for fun, harmless at the end of the night when the mask comes back off.

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One response to “who is that masked (wo)man?

  1. I hate Halloween. I don’t like the dressing up part. So I think I have always assumed I wouldn’t like Carnevale and masquerade balls. But reading your post makes me rethink it a bit. I like the idea that the mask highlights the eyes – and we are forced to really look at each other.

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