Masks: Hide and Sneak

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Halloween has been over for a while now, but masks are with us every day. A mask is more than a simple disguise, theatrical prop or part of a uniform. As Jamie Shalleck notes in his wonderful 1973 book Masks, it is a visible facial realization of the inner spirit. Designed by the late Sam Antupit, this is one of my favorite books. Why?

The jacket is just two eye holes, exposing the two eyes on the cover. The content is not what is expected. The book is organized into sections of Decorative Masks (veils, beards, cosmetics and more), Protective Masks (sunglasses, battle masks, sports masks, surgical masks and more) and Professional Masks (KKK, executioners, bandits, The Lone Ranger and more).

“A mask,” writes Shalleck in the book, “is some alteration of the face—a change of appearance for purposes of protection, make-believe, social acceptance, disguise, amusement or religious devotion. A mask is the spirit realized—inner urges give shape and form and are displayed upon the face. … We wear masks every day.”

Ask yourself what mask you are wearing today, then ask what the person next to you is wearing. Then ask the mask what it wants to say, and who it wants to say it to.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →