For the past several years, I have developed a great interest in traditional masks made by indigenous cultures. I started collecting a mask from each of my trips and over time, the significance has evolved. I no longer consider my keepsakes as souvenirs, but an important metaphor.
As a young physician just coming to terms with my new profession, it has required some adjustment to truly process this social role that I have assumed. On one hand, I am the same person prior to medical school, but now that I am given the trust by patients, I have to project myself as something else. As Dr. Grodofsky, I assume an identity that does not project from my personal being, but is a type of social artifice. It is as if by becoming a doctor, I am placing on a type of costume to assume this role. It is sort of like I am wearing a mask.
The mask is an artifice, both literally and metaphorically. The traditional mask is art as a form of embodiment. By itself, the object is a decorative motif, but it becomes animated when it is part of a ritual or performance as it is placed over the actor’s face. At the same time the actor yields his or her identity to assume a new one, the mask gains life and accesses corporeal existence. It is the infusion of Self from the actor that processes this embodiment, but in this case it is not a personal Self, but a universal, mythical Self that is shared by all humankind.
The process of embodiment is a series of beliefs, activities and perceptions that define a material as Self and not-Self. It should be noted that this is not an inherent aspect of a thing in itself.
The transformative action of the mask comes through construction, excitement and then dissolution.
The construction is the mask creation. The ritual object derives as an external projection to the world that often results from internal struggles of the artist.
The excitement is the ceremony and the embodiment of the mask. It occurs when both audience and actor participate in the myth and suspend pretenses that bring the ritual to life. At this point, egos and defenses have been set to the side, which allows ultimate freedom of the spirit and life is explored at its animal being. It is an invitation to carnality, as a ritual carnival.
Dissolution occurs upon the realization that the referred (the myth) and the referral (mask) are separate. It is the awareness that the power is not in the mask, but from Self. The mask is a symbol, a consciously and communally defined structure created by the power of Self, but is not Self. This brings the realization that Self can only enter the world of thought and perception through artifices.
We all wear masks in our daily lives. They are our professional identities and are vital to a healthy community and family, but we are not confined by them. The symbol of the mask is a veneration of this construct. It brings the simultaneous celebration of the external beauty and reference to the internal combustion of Self that animates and at the same time derives power from the mythology of the mask.