Definition - Masking is where a person acts in ways others might consider “normal” in order to be accepted by them.
Definition - Masking has evolved and is now defined as concealing one’s emotion by portraying another emotion
I am interested in observing people that mask, photographing them and talking to them to understand their why and how they have successfully done so without suspicion. I guess this is in a bid to understand what reality has forced them into hiding - what society has enforced that because if there is one thing society loves, it is uniformity. In looking for the definition of masking, I came across a number of examples formed with various words but they all had the same meaning behind them. A difference in being. In my own words, to mask is to wear a face that is not yours.
People mask for all sorts of reasons - men mask because that’s just what men are meant to do to appear ‘strong’ all the time - they only ever wear their firm manly face - the never shifting out of control face, while the I’m-not-so-strong- today face is concealed lest they be considered weak.
Women mask in an attempt to find the right level of being - to not be too much but also to not be too little - why are you so sad? Smile! - why are you so all over the place - be still - why are you so loud? Who will marry you? - so women mask - one face a day in search of the perfectly acceptable by society face - the ‘this-is-just-alright’ face.
I have been curious about masking as a lifestyle and I am currently working on a series for ‘Masking’ with all sorts of interesting people from different backgrounds and it has been a blessing to behold.
Today I realised that masking on it’s own is not sufficient. If a stranger wears a mask and comes into your home, he is still a stranger and that instills fear. For masking to be a successful outcome - one has to perfect the art of Blending. How well can you fit in even when you stand out?
My favourite definition of blending - “is the technique of gently intermingling two or more values to create a gradual transition or to soften lines”.
Here are some questions I have with regards to Masking
Where do you keep yourself when you are playing the role of someone else?If you have several you’s then who is the authentic you?How long do you have to shift yourself before “they” decide not to show up again?How is it possible to hide in plain sight?When you mask so much that you change who you are so successfully, can true joy be found in that new identity or will you always look for you?
Before I look at others, I prefer to start with myself so I made several self portraits of figurative masking.
Welcome to my masking series
The work that we do takes up a very significant part of our life. It is what we wake up everyday to do; we wear who we are for the day and then head out in pursuit of who we want to be. It is what we come back home with to our lovers, biological family and chosen family at the end of the day; to talk to them about the ups and the downs that the work day brought with it. When we are anxious most times, it is because we fear for our art or career. What are we doing, where it will get to, will we be ok? Love is what takes up most of whatever percentage is left if we are lucky but the things we do for a living; that is what we give most of our physical time and thoughts to on a day to day basis.
Through my journey of life and what I do for a living, I have sought to find my voice and to then live my voice. All me. As time passes, I have realised that this is no easy feat because the world does not exist in isolation or in a bubble. I want to be who I want to be because I am drawn to a repetitive pattern that always brings me back full circle to the same calling but also because I had one day looked at someone else and said ‘wow, I admire this and this is what I want my life to also look like’. We must look to those that have done this before us; first of all so we can know it is possible, then we must look to those that do it excellently so we can learn how to be what we want to be until we can create our own version of greatness that others will one day be also inspired by. It’s a beautiful cycle to look at.
I wonder, in the pursuit of looking to the greats that have come before, where does one draw the line between inspiration and copying? Sometimes I look around an industry and I find a lot of similarities in the way things are done and it begs the question; is this just the way things are done or is everyone copying the same few excellent people? It is all so easy to find what we love, copy and paste it and then do it long enough until it is our new identity; but as you do this, where have you left you?
Some days. I wake up with so much clarity in my mind’s eye, who I am in what I do, what my current status is and the distance between that and where my desired status is. A lot of this is bottled and has not yet been uncorked, but I see it; it is there and I tell myself that one day it will be out and it will be brilliant in the eyes of the beholder and it will inspire. Other days, I can not find me or my voice, so I look online, I scroll instagram, then twitter, then pocket as I file things under ‘inspiration’ and ‘things to re-create’ and I create a compilation of what others have done before me. Sometimes I can not find me for a day, a week, weeks, a month and time does not stop for me to look around and gather myself so I keep going at the fast pace of the world and I go and I keep going on because that is all that there is to do. Creating what I create even when the inspiration lacks and I’m copying and pasting, I am at-least still going; it can never be said that I am not part of the collective that is doing. I am doing, but what am I doing is the question?
The desire has always been to find my voice in the things that I do; the fashion, the photography, the writing, the other things and to keep doing adding volume to the voice until it is amplified but we live in an opinionated era where think pieces are a thing, people are cancelled so loudly and publicly and everyone is sensitive to one thing or the other so personal opinions are stored in a cool dry place and they gather dust as voices are reduced and then reduced some more and on some days we are scared to be because, are we being too much? Is this an acceptable level of be?
Now there’s silence and stillness. There are no cars on the road, suddenly even the birds have stopped chirping; there is a sense of gloom as we frightfully speak to friends we can no longer brunch with and hug, lovers we can not kiss, parents we can’t sit with as we reminisce on life. How fickle it all is and how much we took it all for granted and assured. The worst part of this all to me, is that there is no sun. The sun somehow always makes things better, but I’m sitting by my balcony writing this and overlooking a slight drizzle drop lazily on leaves; but there is no sun. I’m experiencing a sunless pandemic and dissociation has become the order of the day. Home is Dissociation Central. Some days we are just thankful to be alive and that none of our loved ones have been harmed but on other days we are paralysed with fear because other people and their loved ones are dying and everything is on pause and we are scared scared. I am double scared. I haven’t scratched the surface yet. The pope will be home for easter this year. The Pope. Home on Easter Day. There is no Easter in 2020 and this makes me realise that days have the weight they do because humans make it so, we buy Easter eggs and wear our fancy clothes and we make the days special but now the days are montueswedsthursfrisatsunday all in one. Identical days filled in with routine. The most adventurous thing I did this week was put on yellow eyeshadow. We wanted an infinity weekend and now that we have it, we realise that we also want other things we once thought mundane.
Motion has stopped in the outside world but upon a closer look, the wheels are still spinning. The collective is still creating and telling us that this is the time to re-invent but how can a not-yet-fully-invented be re-invented? A work in progress still. How? I’m beginning to sit more with myself and less in the producing of things just because the cycle never stops. I am left with myself to see old things as they are and discover new things as I imagine them to be. I can create the life I want to live; this is my superpower. Whoever I say I will be, is who I will be. Who do you want to be? Envision it.
Are we looking to the collective to see what they’re doing or are we looking inwards to hear the voice that the continuity of achievements in the old world had silenced over time? As we enter a new world, remember that you are the creative director of your life and everything you need is within you, it always has been
(Note to self)
“The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.” — Mohadesa Najumi
Hi my name is Nwando, I am a strong woman living in a third world country and I do not require validation from anyone. I dance to the beat of my own drum, i have massive dreams for my life and i spend my days working towards making my dreams my reality, i work towards the creation of my life without much explanation or fear of judgement. I just do and for this simple reason i’m misunderstood. My mother often says i’ve seen too much of the world to just settle for the ordinary and in many ways she’s right. I struggle with settling. In this write up when i say strong i mean one that stands fearlessly in her pursuits regardless of all obstacles
“Women have been taught that, for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge.” - Andrea Dworkin
When you’re born and raised in a country where the president believes the woman belongs in the kitchen, the living room and the other room, that really tells you all you need to know about my sweet country Nigeria. Women are conditioned from birth to be domesticated and submissive while men are taught to be entitled, demanding and authoritative from a young age. Most women grow up believing they were trained solely so they can find and grab an eligible bachelor, so they go through life with this strong desire to find and keep a man so they can finally achieve status in society. On the other hand, the men grow up being reminded that they are dominant and must always be ‘men’ about situations in order not to show weakness. Growing up we are taught to act ‘acceptable’ around our fathers, to cook, clean and care for our brothers while they scream at football on NTA as they reach out for the small stout we have placed for them on the side stools, it is demanded that we dress decently and come out to serve guests when the family hosts dinner, walk politely and speak calmly, tie bows and ribbons on Sunday’s and sit in front of the church pew, to be educated but not have too much education so that men are not threatened, to have a traditional job but be content in mediocrity so you don’t intimidate men, to look, speak and walk in a certain way so that you’re not misunderstood by neighbours and family friends that are waiting to see how you turn out, to live a good life so that people will not laugh at our parents.
“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes.” They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes.” - Clare Boothe Luce
It does not matter how liberal, intellectual or successful you are, if you don’t fit into the laid down rules of how women should be according to tradition then you are wild. You must dress a certain way, act in a particular way, work in certain industries that are perceived as acceptable, get married at a certain age (preferably 23), then move out of your father’s house into your husband’s house so people can respect you, have children almost immediately so that people will not think you’re loose (preferably a boy first). A strong independent ambitious woman is not one that is readily accepted or recognized; you might as well be a mad woman.
If you’re fortunate or unfortunate enough to be a strong woman, then you must have broken the chain of control, oppression and endless lists of what you ‘should’ be and what you ‘shouldn’t’ be and you can’t be apologetic for who you are. God forbid that you’re a successful woman in your 30’s that is still single and seemingly happy (your happiness will be seen as a mask to shadow your certainly depressing life). I’m almost 30, i live on my own, work for myself and drive my own car so I’m an enigma to most people that think my ‘eyes have torn’ and are shocked that my parents ‘allowed’ me to live by myself. I was turned away by a woman at a very popular bar recently because i was part of a group of girls with no man in sight; how dare we have our own money to buy our own drinks? As women we are not viewed as individuals in our own right but instead we have to be under a family system to be recognised and respected; somebody’s daughter or somebody’s wife, moving from father’s last name to husband’s last name.
“Don’t shut yourself up in a bandbox because you are a woman, but understand what is going on, and educate yourself to take your part in the world’s work, for it all affects you and yours.” ~Louisa May Alcott
If you’re a woman that lives, breathes, dresses up, drives a car, walks down the street in Nigeria then at one point or another, you’ve been called an Ashewo. Ashewo a.k.a Prostitute is a person that engages in sexual intercourse for money. I’ve been called an ashewo for having colored hair, for wearing a dress, for being single, for living abroad, for going to the market; i’ve been called an ashewo by so-called educated elders (especially older yoruba women), by police officers, by men that don’t understand why i won’t succumb to their woos (the irony), by women that think surely i must be a ‘kept’ woman. Know this — when people don’t understand how you’ve achieved what you’ve achieved, they will fill in the blanks with whatever they choose to and there’s not much one can do about that. I’ve been conditioned to accept people’s opinions of me without the strong desire to ‘prove’ them wrong; believe what you must.
We also live in a society where strong women are chastised for having ‘too much’ ambition and wanting to ‘be like’ men because ambition and success is by tradition a man’s trait and not the culturally accepted norm for the woman. This is shown even in curriculums taught in school to children; you are groomed from early on to know that men can be engineers and doctors while women can be nurses and secretaries.
“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl.” ~Shirley Chisholm
Culture is a way of life and as such culture is fluid, it changes with eras. The modern day woman is strong and ambitious but she is also soft in love and happy to care for hers. I can be wildly successful and hopelessly in love, own a thriving business and run a very warm home. I don’t believe in a world where it has to be one or the other. I don’t have to be anti-men to be pro-women.
Today i’m preaching acceptance. Accept the women in your life as they are. Men need to stop comparing women to their mothers; time has changed, get with the era. Don’t try to change me into a woman that wants to be a kept woman and don’t try to change a woman that wants to be kept into an overachiever. We are who we are. I’m a strong woman living in a third world country and i make no apologies for who I am.