Not long ago I read a book review by Shelby Steele in the Times which discussed how one wears a mask to navigate an oppressive system. We develop various routines and armor to survive it all. The mask itself can be a real point of power and is a way for you to work a room, if not a life.
Within an oppressed group, endless discussions and arguments fly as to just which mask it should be. Should we be humble or should we have bitchy pride? The arguments cancel each other out. We can see this in any group.
As I read this brief review (of a book by Robert Norrell on the life of Booker T. Washington), it hit me like a ton of bricks that this whole mask-as-empowerment idea was key to my targets. It is why I have almost exclusively relayed objects of beauty and glamour as opposed to “Women of Distinction,” something more in line with an International Women’s Day project.
I personally have had a great deal of experience with the mask – and continue to do so, whether it was my own or someone else’s. I had the mask handed down to me from my mother; we watched Bette Davis films together. Being a makeup artist, it is something I’m a bit of an expert on – but of course it goes beyond that. When someone suggested that I could use powerful women from history like Margaret Thatcher or Amelia Earhart in a target, well, that kind of power is a relatively unknown territory.
- But I do know a bit about what it’s like to be perceived as a Sally Bowles – a fascinating “artiste” who is nonetheless a slut for doing what the guys are doing. And while some believe that the mask is “over,” an artifact of another century, a subject of another era, I disagree.
When Richard Schemmerer asked me in his interview if I was critical of the women I used, I realized that the answer comes from a dual view - for I was and am a willing participate and voyeur, and have no hatred, for all its evil implications, of the mask I have grown up with. I enjoyed punk especially because of its play and denouncement of it. When we first came on the scene, I remember people in Oregon throwing cans at us from their cars - rocks too. They thought we were some kind of weird, out-of-time hookers. The fucking around with the mask really unnerved them. And is still can.