Mask-Making and the Art in Multicultural Art Education
Cho, Mika M., Art Education
San Pedro Academy in Los Angeles is an all-male private school for elementary, middle, and high school students with emotional and behavioral problems. The entire student body, predominantly African American and Latino, has been deemed at risk of involvement in gangs, drugs or crime. Many students were born addicted to crack cocaine; some are in Alcoholics Anonymous. I wanted to create an art project that would allow these at-risk youths to experience success, raise self-esteem, and learn tolerance of different cultures. The project choice was mask-making because this art form spans many cultures.
I began by showing slides of colorful masks from around the world. Seeing the artifacts of many cultures promoted discussions about ethnicity and the contributions of artists from various backgrounds. After students sketched the design they wanted to use, they made plaster-gauze masks of their own faces. Available materials included feathers, sparkles, sea shells, dried beans, corn husks, and tempera paints. The students, working in small teams, carefully decorated their masks. These young men gained a new sense of selfempowerment, pride in their culture, and tolerance of people different from themselves. Most importantly, perhaps, they experienced success in a system that expects them to fail.
In my art education classes, maskmaking is used to illustrate cultural differences and similarities (Cho, 1996) . Students who have become teachers (K-12) have also used the mask-making project as a multicultural exercise. In order to implement the multicultural art education principles offered in this paper, art educators need tools in the classroom that must go beyond presentation of artifacts from diverse cultures. Such an approach should use a integrative design. This in turn raises two questions: a) Can the integrative approach have a culturespecific design, and b) Could the integrative approach explain the meaningful cultural context that produced the art form? This article addresses these two important questions through the use of masks as an art form in an educational context.
MASKS AS A COMMON ART FORM FOR MULTICULTURAL ART EDUCATION
Masks constitute a meaningful and important art form by Western criteria (Segy, 1976). Masks have been created as long as human societies have been in existence and exist today in cultures on every continent. They are venerated as historical repositories of cultural meaning, as well as valued expressions of folk art, but they are continually being created. Mask-making is not simply an activity of the past. For example, today one still finds opera masks being used in China, Korea, and Japan as an integral part of performance. This study examines and illustrates the effectiveness of masks as a key to understanding the art of a culture, through the example of Korean masks.
In Korean, the word "mask" or kamyun means "artificial face." Masks have been used in the traditional agrarian dance that developed from shamanistic ceremonies over 3,000 years ago (Korean Arts and Culture, 1986). Anger, joy, fear, and wonder are among the emotions the masks show. The value of an artificial face that displays facial expression communicating emotion is great in a culture that teaches its members not to show much emotion in public life, and is related to the important Asian concept of "face" as in losing face, giving face, and saving face. Emotions that could be potentially destructive for the status of an individual or a group are transferred to an artificial face that is not connected to a person (nor, thereby, to a group of people) and is not vulnerable to potential damage. Masks allow a group to express feelings without risk.
In Korea masks were and are used in dance dramas that were first written about in the Silla kingdom (57 B.C. to 935 AD.). The dance dramas fall into three major categories and portray 10 different dance styles, including popular folk comedies that present episodes of daily life. …