Region/Concept: Middle East, Body
Sub-Concepts: Paradox, Simulation, Dissimulation, Trickery, Shamelessness
Description: Exhibition of the world’s oldest masks opens in Jerusalem museum; meanwhile, gas masks line the streets of Syria, Turkey, and Palestine.
The mask is a paradoxical device; within its structural logic rests the potential for simulation and dissimulation, transformation and deception, concealment and revelation, alienation and seduction, sadism and innocence, terror and pleasure. That it requires the almost total surrender of identity to the façade (one is allowed to keep only their eyes), that it seals the world of appearances in a state of eternal frozenness and trickery, that it lies in brazen form, that it transparently announces its own will to mislead and thus turns duplicity and fraud into a visual apparatus, and yet still remains a force of attraction and fixation, makes it something for us not to underestimate. For these reasons and beyond, the mask has facilitated many axes of human action over centuries, including those of: criminal concealment (the bandit, the ninja, the robber): anarchistic play (the carnival, the masquerade, the orgy); and militant violence (the gladiator, the knight, the Bedouin, the samurai, the face-painted warrior). There are even images of various gods wearing masks. What is more, these first gods were invented in the same region where ancient stone masks are now placed on display in galleries at the same moment that postmodern gas masks signal an ongoing flux of protest, upheaval, and war right outside the museum. Thus we are compelled to ask: Is there a conspiratorial link between the coverings of nine thousand years ago and the visors of the present state of emergency? Are these new masks descended somehow from their elder counterparts, and hence partake of the same matrix of power, distortion, disguise, frivolity, secrecy, and reckless bloodshed that has always been harbored by this one accessory. Accessory to what, then? To celebration and murder, to the simultaneity of celebration of murder, to the hour of shamelessness and the opening of an irresponsible universe, with its light and dark absurdities, such that it is this very same mask which at once allows us to dance (without judgment) and allows us to kill (without judgment).
Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh