MASKED? MASKED? MASKÉ? (?CONVINCING ?MASKED)’
Curated By Nazgol Majlessi & Jochen Heufelder
FUHRWERKSWAAGE Kunstraum Exhibition Hall
Bergstrasse 79, D-50999 Cologne, Sürth
1 – 28 February 2021
Participating Artists: Mous Lamrabat (Belgium), Jila Mokhtari (Iran) & Madiha Sebbani (Morocco)
The protection of the mouth and nose, which we call a ‘mask’, is currently a defining element of public life, and the wearing of this partial covering of the face is even officially prescribed. In contrast, masks are worn voluntarily at carnival – in a wide variety and according to the actual meaning of the word mask, which comes from Arabic: Fool, joke, farce. Generally, however, a mask is understood to be a face covering that conceals the identity of the wearer.
Younger artists are increasingly using masks in their works, among other things to attract attention by concealing them or to question facts and constellations.
The artist Mous Lamrabat (Belgium) uses everyday objects to combine them into helmet-like mask forms. For example, the well-known IKEA bag strap, which is wrapped around the head in this way, leaving only the eye area free. Everyone knows this blue and yellow logo! Hasn’t IKEA with its interior long since become a broadly defining part of our furnishing culture? NIKE, on the other hand, is a very sought-after label – regardless of the item. Several leather belts of this brand were combined by the artist to form a helmet-like mask, leaving only a viewing slit. With the wrapping method, the artist cites a form of headgear common in the Arab world, e.g. the turban. While the latter still offers protection from the sun, the wearer of Lamrabat’s helmet masks is extremely constricted. On the one hand, his photos present accessories in an unusual way. At the same time, however, they visualise the withdrawal of individuality through excessive consumption.
Photographer Jila Mokhtari (Iran) shows women, who particularly emphasise the eye slit of their full-face veil, a form common in the south of Iran. In addition to the very strikingly coloured fabrics of their clothing, they also decorate the visual area and deliberately draw attention to the eyes. The religiously conditioned covering of the body and the associated reduction of identity is reversed in the choice of ‘masks’. Their rich ornamentation in turn creates a proud identity known only to a few ‘insiders’. These masks clearly highlight the carefully made-up eyes through shape and colour. A strong partial individualisation in contrast to the de-individualisation of the body in its veiling.
Madiha Sebbani (Morocco) worked on her two copper masks in her home country, in the city of Fez. The large-scale mask with its countless, densely arranged, honeycomb-like openings allows the viewer to guess the features of the wearer’s face. She, in turn, recognises her counterpart far better from the inside, due to the short distance to the grille. This physical phenomenon is well known – and a side effect of the architecture in the interior of mosques, when separating the sexes. The second mask also has an architectural reference in its basic form, resembling a closed building with an unmistakably religious character. However, the surface of this mask has far fewer openings and these are exclusively at eye level. In contrast to the first mask, the wearer’s facial features remain completely hidden. Is the full-face veil being quoted here – and possibly also commented on?
Mask or not? This question arises in particular in the works of the two artists Shokoufeh Eftekhar and Naghmeh Jafari Firouzbadi (Iran). Their actors wear a wide belt around their heads that completely hides the mouth. It is held by a band running across the forehead and the top of the head, which is connected to the belt again at the nape of the neck. The partly elaborately decorated surface of the belt, which closes the mouth, is worth noting. Obviously, silence is the theme here – or rather ‘not speaking’? With their work, the two artists thematise the widespread inner censorship. People remain silent and keep their opinions to themselves – so as not to suffer any disadvantages. The individual subordinates himself to the general guidelines. With this device, not unlike a ‘bridle’ (scold’s bridle), people (mainly women) were already silenced in England in the 17th century – as a punishment.
Masks here are artefacts to focus on states and circumstances, not primarily to slip into another role. Instead, all the artists load their ‘masks’ with special content, address social constellations, even restrictions, and make people aware of them. In doing so, they make use of the common principle: making visible through concealment. And this although, or precisely because, they all come from countries where the mask (for women) is a matter of course in everyday life. The overriding question: masked? is not only to be evaluated according to the degree of veiling, here aspects of content dominate. The rather cheerful connotation of the original meaning has fallen by the wayside anyway.
For more information about the exhibition please navigate to the FUHRWERKSWAAGE Kunstraum website here: https://www.fuhrwerkswaage.de/mountainview-gallery/projekte-in-2021/#!/cb85