What are you masking?

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.2013-10-02 09.08.37

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.

2013-10-02 09.08.43 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.

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El Prado/ La Reina Sofia

Detail showing Philip IV's daughter, the Infan...
Detail showing Philip IV’s daughter, the Infanta Margarita. Her left cheek was largely repainted after being damaged in the fire of 1734 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Link to:
Madrid 2009

It was Sunday when we visited so both museums were free. Well El Prado was free after 5pm, and we had to wait in a long line, but it moved at lightening speed once they opened up the gates.

We first went to La Reina Sofia, the modern art museum that holds a treasure chest of modern art gems, especially Dali, Miro, Picasso, Picabia to name some artists that blew me away in particular.

There were Dali paintings that I swore I confused with Picasso, in a cubist style that hinted of a reverence for the icon. It was interesting to see a Dali portrait of Luis Bruenuel (a surrealistic director whom he later produced La Chien Andeluz with- where a scene shows a man slicing his eyeball), which is a straight forward, strong but yet not what you think of as Dali. He painted that when he was 21 years old. Next to that painting is a still life the artist painted 3 years later which shows the ecclectic dance of images, insects and other oddities dancing on the painting, a glimpse at what crystal clear dreamlike madness will come to caracterize Dali and is portrayed wonderfully in the museum.

As I came to room 206 in the museum, I quickly felt like a thunderous punch aimed directly at my gut. It was Picasso´s Guernica. A large backdrop of sorrow, loss, destruction and chaos coming in the midst of the Spanish Civil War as Franco took over Spain and dismantled life as Picasso knew it in Spain. The central focus of the painting, a minimalist bull with its body contorted in the top right corner of the work. In the center of the painting, untranslatable images, chaos and unraveling and as you go to the edges of the painting, visages of sorrow in bubble faces burning to the ground, disembodied arms holding weapons, a cubist image of a mother clutching a baby. The humanity of the humans is the un-uniqueness of the faces. They are no one, but they are you. There is a horse in the center of the painting, underneath a crying eyeball sun, with a dagger coming through its mouth and teeth dripping paint like blood. This horse, the military industrial complex, has brought pain distruction, suffering with no end or hope in sight and this comes through in the eyes of all the humans. The eyes, the crying eyes though, all face the bull. Like the eyes of Renaisance paintings focusing on the crusified Christ are all directed to the unifying, dying symbol of Spain. Second to the horror of the masterpiece, are the three rooms dedicated to haunting sketches and other works by Picasso in the creation of his work.

Later that day, we visted El Prado. When I first walked through the doors, I could feel the modern greats that I hold so dear, walk through the same exact halls and admire the works of Bosch (or in Spanish El Bosco), Brueghel, Goya, El Greco and Velazquez and others who mastered their contemporaries and then proceeded to push the boundaries of art that walled everyone else in.

In particular a fancied Hyrenomous Bosch, who has been speculated to be influenced by Ergot alkaloid, a mold that grows on rye and wheat that has a chemical structure similar to Lysergic acid (LSD). Even though this is speculation, I have over the years accepted it in my imaginations as being true whether it is actually factual or not because his works are far freaking out. They are these scenes of heaven and hell of these characters and strange creatures in various acts of the surreal. Men with beaks like birds wandering about, a pig dressed in a nuns cap copulating with a red ¨person,¨ they are so intricate and crazy and so rare. Oh yeah, he painted it in the 1490s. It looks wild for even today´s standards.

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against...
Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against Fascism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a star explodes, mass becomes so dense that all the constituent atoms become so compact that a black hole forms creating a violent disruption on the fabric of space time. If you picture a marble rolling around in orbit in a funnel, as it gets closer to the hole, it speeds up until it dissapears. This is the effect of the black hole on all surrounding paricles, projectiles and planets. Las Meninas, Diego Velazquez’s masterpiece is this black hole in the Prado.

Link to:
Madrid 2009

on to Morocco