Throughout the world, ‘mask’ is universal and cuts across various cultures. They are used for their power and mystery to assume an identity of a supernatural being or a man or even an animal which could be for ritual rites or theatre performances. The Greco-Roman era saw performers use masks to assume different characters at the same time. In this case, it is a costume, in some other cases, it is used for ritual rites where strokes and drawn symbols are on the face of the individual or a mask.
Over the years, masks have transcended to being symbols and quintessence of a tradition as it is vital to the customs and traditions of the religious or social life of a community.
Wearing a mask is, to some, putting on another identity like those of Superman, Batman, Spiderman. These identities illustrated how the use of masking works.
Masquerades are peculiar to different cultures since they serve different purposes in society. Masquerades are masked spirits believed to be the ancestral spirits of the people; facilitating a balance between the living and the dead.
Masquerades, in their uniqueness, offer different functions, varying in one’s community. The Igbo’s called the masked spirits Muo while the Yorubas called them Egungun which translates to “spirit”. These ancestral masked spirits are assumed in their masked form; an act that appears mundane, but hold so much meaning indeed. These prestigious and fear-provoking masquerades were often used at ceremonies like burials, new yam festivals and coronations. Other masquerades, on the other hand, exist as a source of entertainment thus finding their purpose, in other aspects like the famous Adamma masquerade, is a female masquerade known for her dancing dexterity at festivals.
Therefore, the use of the mask is as old and yet, new. One significance of the mask is how it accentuates the eyes, as the only visible thing that truly comes alive expressing a thousand words.
Today, we all use masks as a result of the present sanitary purpose of prevention. It goes without a doubt to say that wearing masks is the new fashion in town as it is changing the way people dress and the gradual assimilation into our way of life and fashion. They come in different unconventional forms, colours and patterns away from the traditional bright blue surgical mask.
Long before the coronavirus, “Lagbaja”, the Nigerian masked musician, drew his inspiration from his traditional roots. And here we are again where the mask resonates with every single being.
Artists have used their artworks to encapsulate and illustrate what the world is going through. Visual designer Hayati Evren’s “Corona Lisa”- a Mona Lisa artwork showing her wear a face mask and sipping a corona beer through a pierced mask is proof of this.
Many of these artworks that have surfaced are with the intent to show gratitude to health workers while giving the world something to hope for.
Time has invariably fueled the creativity of both artist and fashion designers to deal with the crisis as art observes through different forms in art and fashion the pandemic as it is.
Like our tradition of masquerading, each time we wear a mask it is a deed of channelling the warrior in us to be spirited, leaving the gazing eyes to tell the tales of pain, loss, hope and love.
Just as masks were worn for war, so has the mask become a weapon and a symbol of hope against the pandemic. With our new culture of masking, we now smile through the eyes as we march on giving us the option to see the world through its eye whilst seeking the human soul through our masked beings.
Ironically, corona takes lives but has given meaning to life and works. It has stimulated purpose regardless of the ambivalence it also brings.
Like our ancestors, we are masked and shaped into warriors each time we wear a mask because we fight a common enemy. The recent culture of mask-wearing has indeed become a global symbol of the world’s unity to fight the virus. In order words, stay safe; stay trendy.
To conclude, the best gift you can give a person in a smile are the eyes, for they are the windows to the soul.