I have been in a workshop series with Mady Mooney, an Arts Therapist, every Monday for 5 weeks in Vancouver throughout April and May. Part of the beauty of the mask making process for me was having one side reveal how we express our different faces to the world, and the other side representing what we hide from the world.

In my mask piece, I painted the inside with blues and purples around the eyes and forehead, my color for imagination and intuition – this is how I see myself truly and authentically, as a spiritual being. I painted a color scheme that I felt was tribal and energetic, signifying a shamanic spirit that lies within; a sorcerer or healer that has answers to life’s questions in a quest to offer balance and harmony. Feathers on the top right of the mask represented my inner artist, my ability to generate ideas from my right brain. The blue stone represents the energy center of inspiration and innate knowledge.

The outside of my mask illustrated how I portray myself to others. There are overlapping sections that crisscross the mask, indicating my affinity for trying to be everything to everyone, and live up to society’s expectations. There is also a division between the hemispheres of the mask, in terms of the black and orange separating the two polar parts of my personality, indicated by a star on one side and a moon on the other – celestial symbols of the Libra in me, that is always seeking balance. The stone in the center of the forehead on the outside of this mask represents the dominance of my mental body and a predisposition to deep thoughts as I’m often pondering the secrets of Life. I loved this exercise, in particular the tactile nature of playing with string, yarn, jewels, fabric, paint, stones, and feathers. I found it to be very creative and therapeutic.

Masks have been used in the past for the purposes of storytelling, drama and in ceremonies. Masks can be a powerful method of transformation, allowing wearers to step into a different persona and create a new personality to act out on a stage. Children play and explore the world but in time as they grow up, society teaches them to conform to a certain sense of behaviour by censuring individuality and encouraging conformity as they develop into adults – often resulting in a loss of creativity. It got me thinking about how each of us wears masks in social environments, where we learn to repress qualities in ourselves that may have negative connotations, or may not be received well by society according to their rules and norms. In “The Secret of the Shadow” by Debbie Ford, she discusses the psychology of the ‘shadow’, which includes repressed emotions and feelings that accompany our false self and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. Masks and expressive arts therapy can bring into the open an idea of how we see ourselves, or how we would like to be.

Using expressive arts therapy in conjunction with mask making would help one to explore the self further through role play, movement or storytelling. I hope to work on this further with my art therapist to delve into the faces I put on and the versions of myself that I put forward for others to see. I have often wondered how to keep one’s playful spirit alive and unencumbered by society’s restrictive rules as I work to re-instate my creativity and nurture my imagination.