Since time immemorial, people have used masks and disguises as a means of assuming an alternate identity. In some cases, masks allow the wearer to theatrically perform a character, and in other instances, the secrecy afforded by a mask permits the wearer to more freely express their true nature. Sometimes, the spiritual power or prestige residing in the mask itself becomes a channel for conveying power. From the festival to the confessional, masks protect their wearers from the societal judgments of everyday life and allow the wearers to function on an alternate plane. For artists working in recent decades, masks and disguise provide a means of portraying identity itself as a construct or a line of inquiry to be challenged and manipulated.
"Masks and disguise provide an excellent opportunity to think about how we define or ‘perform' who we are," said Miranda Lash, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at NOMA. "When a mask or disguise is worn, it signals a specific identity, communicated by appearance, cultural, spiritual, and familial history, and in some cases, layers and systems of secrecy. The objects presented in this exhibition are a combination of rarely seen treasures from the NOMA collection, and groundbreaking work by artists who take full advantage of the multivalent properties of disguise. When we cannot see an individual's everyday face or body, how does it change how we react to them? Can we have faith in the performer or the face behind the mask?"
The exhibition Brilliant Disguise, organized by Lash, was influenced and inspired by New Orleans and its Mardi Gras, which has a rich history of masking. Exhibiting artists include: Yinka Shonibare, John Graham, Nikki Lee, Jim Nutt, Yasumasa Morimura, Gillian Wearing, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, and John Waters.
The exhibition runs from 7 March until 23 June 2013