“Show me your face before you were born”

— Zen koan

Why I Make Mask Sculptures

The technique for weaving a mask (which I have at times called Zati masks) came to me in a dream on August 13, 1989. In the dream, I was living near Barcelona, Spain attending a university. Walking in the woods, I came to an old road, where a single bullock cart with  large hand-made wooden wheels stood unhitched and filled with extraordinary woven masks. I had never seen anything like them before. Each one was like a jewel, woven and felted and embellished with its own headdress. I was curious to see how they were made.

At that moment I saw a group of women on the far side of the wagon wearing long red skirts with aprons. One came to me with a mask in her hands. “This one is for you,” she said. She invited me to come and share food with them. I asked, “How do you make these?” And the woman who had given me the mask explained in detail how she had woven mine. She said, “This mask will teach you something very important about yourself. When you find out what that is, share it with others.” That was the gift of the mask.

When I awoke, I immediately wove the face of the mask on a warp that was already on the loom. Since then I have created well over one hundred masks.

The Latin persona means mask. Historically, masks played the role of shifting our point of view from logical to symbolic thinking. Masks act as gatekeepers for the opening between the world of objects and the mystery.

Anyone who has donned a mask and thought about the experience realizes that the mask, in concealing the face, which is the prime expression of the personality, frees something inside. The mask allows us to express other parts of ourselves with a feeling of freedom from our ordinary existence.

So in concealing, the mask paradoxically reveals. The use of masks in evoking spiritual presence is proof of the process. Both the mask- wearer and the viewers of the ritual participate in this joining of their inner selves with a spiritual presence.

Masks reveal the many disguises of the creator’s spirit just as our own faces do. Myths and stories begin with concrete experience and evolve into cultural symbols which connect our human lives with the life of the spirit we all recognize. Symbols are able to convey a deeper meaning than literal stories. The mask, when approached with respect for ourselves, can show us our inherent powers of vision and the greater patterns of meaning in our lives.

The spirit of the mask represents a concentration of one’s own psychic energy, offering a dialogue between the ego and other aspects of our persona. The mask you make yourself contains power for you because it manifests in concrete form some part of yourself that would like to speak to you. A series of your own masks can reveal to you an entire personal mythology.

Making a mask initiates us into the possibility of identifying with the enlivening force just behind the face we wear every day.