• Fall/Winter 2019
- August 28, 2019
Let me remind you of the etymological origin of the word ‘person’, which has been adopted almost unchanged from the Latin ‘persona’ by the European languages.
Persona’ originally referred to the actor’s mask that covered his individual ‘personal’ face and indicated to the spectator the role and the part of the actor in the play”. Hannah Arendt reminds us that we are persons when we choose the mask through which we appear on the world’s stage. We define our subjectivity and our ethical and political placement through this shared appearance scene.
When we show ourselves on the public scene, we reveal ourselves to each other in our plural identities. The visibility space therefore represents the condition of possibility of being together and, at the same time, different.A certain metaphysical prejudice has always seen the mask as a concealment tool, something used to fake reality. Something that would make us irremediably inauthentic.
But if by authenticity we mean the possibility to stick to the idea we have of ourselves, the mask becomes the means through which we can become what we feel we are. The mask, in fact, lets us show ourselves as we please and play our acting role as we think is best. It’s the possibility to choose how to exercise our freedom to show ourselves through a powerful filter that constantly selects what we want to share about us and what we want to conceal instead.
Reflecting on the nature of appearance, Arendt emphasizes its dual function of showing and hiding at the same time. What appears, in fact, never entirely shows itself: the disclosure of some parts ends up in keeping others secret. The mask itself always holds a tension between divergent impulses: exhibition and concealment, manifestation and protection, vanity and modesty.
The mask is a form. And, as every form, it’s able to repair, cover and, at the same time, expose. In fact it’s composed of two surfaces made of the same substance, one concave the other convex. Lying one on the other. Their union can connect outside and inside, presence and absence, visible and invisible. In the mask the depth overlaps the surface. Who wears it is dressed with what undresses.
Playing with the magic ambiguity of masks represents an occasion to recover the creative roots of our being alive. To live “as a distinct and unique being among equals” (H. Arendt).If appearance represents the physiological condition of our thinking of ourselves as persons in relation, masks can offer themselves as the means through which we can give citizenship rights to our manifold becoming.