• Jessica Bellef

We all wear masks...

Image by Leigh Bowery

In 1994 I watched Jim Carrey writhe and rubber-band around in the movie 'The Mask'. At the time, I was very unaware that a quote from the film would find a way to wedge itself deep into my cerebral matter and resurface time and time again. That sticky line was "We all wear masks, metaphorically speaking", delivered by Carrey into a mirror as he imitated a dead-pan therapist he had seen on television. The depth of the line may have been lost on me as a 13-year-old; I was probably more interested in Carrey's bone-dislocating approach to comedy than leaning into a biting satire of humanity. The quip sailed over my little head back then, but now the idea has never been more pertinent.

Masks represent complexity. They can symbolise centuries of ritual and storytelling, or they can be the product of fleeting trends and cyclic aesthetics. They can be functional, purely decorative or somewhere in between. Masks conceal the face and act as protection from physical or spiritual threats. They allow us the freedom to act outside of our norm, expressing parts of ourselves that we would otherwise keep hidden. Masks simultaneously deliver levels of anonymity and accent when they are worn, creating a 'look at me, don't look at me' dichotomy.

And herein lies the proof that we all wear masks, metaphorically speaking. We live with the fact that our identities exist in very concrete ways outside of our physical self. We attend to our online personas on a daily basis through social media, often veiling the true self with careful curation, considered wordplay and artfully applied filters. The hope is that this presentation of the 'best self' will manifest a legion of followers and lashings of public adoration.

The word 'mask' in Latin translates to 'persona'. When it comes to our digital persona, we chuck on the mask that we think the world wants to see and we tentatively push on from the safety of the mask's flip side. We conceal elements of ourselves behind a screen, while at the same time we reveal chosen parts of our identities to audiences that span the globe. It's a beautiful paradox at play.

Mask by Studio Bertjan Pot

Mask by Paul Toupet

Image by Carlos González Ximénez

Mask by Bunnie Reiss