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On April 4, 2014 Biennial artists My Barbarian joined the YI Leaders to host a teen event. The event explored the role of masks in performance art and the extent to which a performer can embody an alternate identity and character with a mask. My Barbarian is a group of three artists: Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade. In the weeks leading up to the teen event, they had performed their Biennial work in the Lobby Gallery: The Mother and Other Plays, which included improvised content, musical numbers, and audience participation. Their performances have received enormous acclaim and sold out repeatedly.
Prior to the event, Youth Insights Leaders had worked closely with Malik and Alexandro. We participated in various improvisation activities. In pairs, we acted, mimicked, and guessed what the other person did during their daily routine and what career they wanted to pursue. We were also encouraged to create stage names for ourselves and mine was DeShirlo!
At the teen event, guests began by creating masks at stations around the Whitney Studio. The masks were intended to emphasize the characteristics of the face, such as the shape and placement of the nose. We covered our masks with newspaper, paying attention to which words and fragments we chose to paper our masks with. After completing the masks, we created a name, personality, and lifestyle for our character. We then had the opportunity to catwalk with our mask on and everyone was very enthusiastic and supportive.
One of the most memorable moments of the event was when we did an activity called newspaper theater. In groups of four, we transformed a current event into a performance using our masks. One of the performances was based on an article about the increasing number of Jewish women getting involved with Zumba dancing. One person danced to the beats another member of the group made, while the other two followed the dancing routine. It was a great performance and I loved seeing how the group incorporated both information from the article and their own interpretation into the performance. The activity also demonstrated how our demeanor changed when we were wearing masks: we had a new identity and were able to more fully inhabit the performance.
By Shirley (aka DeShirlo), Youth Insights Leader