Behind the Mask

January 22, 2021
An investigation into the role of masks in contemporary art, addressing themes of race, gender, sexuality, mythology, and identity politics through the unique aesthetic expressions of featured artists. Behind the Mask investigates the role of the mask in contemporary artistic explorations and understandings of race, gender, sexuality, mythology, histories, and futures. The centrality of the mask is paramount to the artists’ unique aesthetic lexicons and used as a tool, both for cultural remembrance and as an icon of contemporary identity politics.
Sarah Umles
Works by
Jack Black, Skount Garcia, Ashley Johnson and Alicia Piller
Ashley Johnson, Sestina

Behind the Mask is guest curated by Sarah Umles, interdisciplinary artist and founder-director of The Residency Project. Artists exhibited include Jack Black, Skount Garcia, Ashley Johnson and Alicia Piller.

The mask has a rich global history. Over millennia, nearly all materials have been employed in the making of masks, including stone, wood, clay, leather, metal, cloth, paper, plastic, glass, paint, and makeup. From the world’s earliest known masks—which date back 9,000 years to prehistoric times before the invention of written language—to Ancient Egyptian, Roman, Mayan, and African death masks; from early 1600s Japanese Kabuki theater masks to modernday Halloween masks, humans have been compelled to cover their faces, taking on new identities whether human, animal, or spiritual. This deeply rooted impulse and the universal significance of the mask prevail in contemporary culture. Behind the Mask calls into investigation the role of the mask in 21st-century artistic explorations and understandings of race, gender, sexuality, mythology, histories, and futures. Behind the Mask brings diverse artists into dialogue with one another, transgressing physical borders and the boundaries between folk art and fine art. The artists in this exhibition were selected based on the centrality of the mask in their unique aesthetic lexicons, as well as for the distinct conceptual perspectives they bring to the mask as a tool for ancestral remembrance and as an icon of contemporary identity politics.

-Sarah Umles, guest curator of Behind the Mask

Behind the Masks features four artists, diverse in their geographic regions, identities and artistic lexicons. Jack Black is a self-taught artist from the Four Corners area of the Navajo Reservation in Red Valley, Arizona. Black portrays embodied spiritual energies from the ancient mythology and ongoing ceremonial practices of the Hopi Nation in vibrant, acrylic paintings of stylized masks. Also painting in high-key color, Skount Garcia (currently residing in Amsterdam, Netherlands) is inspired by the classical Spanish theatre of Almagro, Spain, where he spent his childhood. Skount Garcia’s masked characters beckon the viewer from their familiar environment into visions of mysterious and playful dreamscapes informed by his cultural experiences. Ashley Johnson employs mixed media via photography in her depictions of textiles, florals, woven and braided masks to navigate intra-racial conflict and identity, as it relates to African American/feminine beauty practice. Johnson is a multidisciplinary artist from Winston Salem, North Carolina. Alicia Piller, a Los Angelesbased artist, envisions experienced trauma, both political and environmental, through the lens of a microscope. Piller’s wearable sculptural masks collage contemporary imagery and news clippings to address present-day societal trauma. 

[Read more about the artists and exhibition]

Behind the Mask || AGCC Virtual Opening – January 22, 2021

This exhibition is generously supported, in part, by the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles.

[Press Kit]

Virtual Exhibition