Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dancing the Mask part 3: Wearing the Story- Project Reflection

Thunderbird Mask of an Ancestral Sky Being of of the Namgis clan of the Kwakwaka’wakw

"The Namgis relate how Thunderbird flew out of the heavens to assist a man who had been transformed into a large halibut, and when his assistance was finished, Thunderbird removed his headdress and winged cape and became human. When this mask is worn and danced during Winter Ceremony potlatches, the wearer opens and shuts the beak, revealing a human form within. " - Brooklyn Museum Website here

For every moment of doubt I have had about my writing and the stories I choose to tell, I always experience these huge moments of confirmation and endorsement by the universe, in some form or fashion, and always at a necessary appointed time. I say no to the notion of co-incidence and chance and deign that the same source of divinity that has allowed me to create worlds with my hands, is the same force that sanctions these periods of revelation and enlightenment.

One of these moments happened last week listening to Saul Williams and Sanford Biggers speak on afrofuturism, its relationship to 'Sankofa' within the West African cultural cannon and then the use of stories that represent our supernatural ability in the past and the construction of the future. The construction of new myths. Here it is that this particular mask above was in the space, and that I chose to build work around it, without taking due notice of its colors or its story. Yet after conducting enough research, I came to learn that it is the same narrative that my work has been pushing in these past 3 odd years, that is, life as sea beings (the man transformed into the halibut-fish), life on earth (the thunderbird becoming human and living on the land) and life in the sky (a narrative on flight and airborne ability). I had never before last week considered my own work to be part of a larger body of afrofuturistic artwork and storytelling.

It happened on my visit to Trinidad in the summer of 2013 when I was told that these 'characters' I had been writing about in my play were not mere constructions of different women in my head, but they were actual, historical beings with real names and real lives. I had been talking about them without knowing they ever existed. Herein is the magic of what we do. 

This dancing the mask performance was to serve as commentary on our rites of Jouvay, in the traditions that preceded ours. Even in the absence of direct connections. The open beak with the human face inside is the essence of what masking and masquerade is truly about:

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth."
-Oscar Wilde

This is what my work has been about, unmasking our truth, telling these very human stories in the shroud of gone legacies of supernatural living and fantasy. In fact, so long as there is a living God above me, what is there in my life that is not part of a superhuman experience? Dancing the mask is very much like dancing this skin, dancing these flesh and bones, dancing this body that makes me appear as though I were not really a spiritual being. It is a daily dance with a constantly evolving music. It is never about hiding, but playing the larger than life entity to reveal the truth about us. 

Dancing the Mask: Brooklyn Museum. Credit: Clifford Drouillard