Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Ever Changing Face

Recently, I visited the Baltimore Museum of Art. In the three years I have been at Loyola, I had yet to go to this well-established museum that's minutes away from campus. When I finally decided to get up and do something with my Sunday afternoon, I was amazed with what I discovered and reminded of how much I enjoy art. One of the pieces that really caught me off guard and kept me staring for fifteen minutes was Andy Warhol's Self-Portrait. I was completely mesmerized. The background was black making his white face and hair stand out. As an overlay, there was another print of the same picture, however, it was not completely in line with the black and white photograph. The other print was positioned in a way making it seem like Warhol had a second pair of eyes directly below his original pair. The contrast between the black and white of one photo and the pinkish, over-exposed hue of the other made the portrait eerily life-like and 3-D. I stood there, not able to move; Warhol's eyes had pinned me in place, forcing me to look not only into the depth of the eyes, but also his face as a whole. Anywhere you looked on his face you could simultaneously see another part of his face. I felt uncomfortable looking at a portrait this way. I felt as though I was seeing more than I was meant to see or supposed to see. In the same way, Spiegleman's presentation of the human face in Maus II presents the human face in a way that forces the reader to look at his characters with a different perspective.
When I first picked up Maus to read I was not accustomed to the form of the graphic novel and was unsure of why Spiegleman chose to portray his characters as mice--something completely opposite from our notion of the human face. As I continued to read, I noticed in some frames, the mouse faces are actually masks. With this in mind, Spiegleman is suggesting that as humans, we wear masks to shield our identity, protect ourselves from being exposed and violated, or to hide in shame. With the events of the Holocaust as a focal point of the book, one can understand how those who commit such brutalities and are victims of violence and dehumanization would want to disguise their human face in an effort to protect their true identity from being exposed. Ironically, however, by suggesting this, Spiegleman encourages his readers to look more closely at the human face. The form of the graphic novel, just like Warhol's form of pop culture, forces the readers and observers to look at ourselves, at our faces and at the faces of others. If one can look closely enough, one can find the string to the mask, untie it, and reveal their true identity. Although tonight many of us will don make up and disguises, creating alter-egos, Halloween is not every day and eventually those masks must come off.

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