Case

Annette Rose & MASKWORX LIMITED
A Hot Mask Project from New Zealand

Introduction

Tiny, ripped up pictures of masks first started appearing in mask educationalist Annette Rose's collage art about twenty years ago. This was after the death of her mother from breast cancer and Annette was participating in a workshop "Symbols as a Healing Agent" facilitated by Greg Furth, a colleague of the late Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross. Death is the architect that shapes us.

It wasn't long before Annette wanted to make a mask from scratch, but didn't know how. She asked around, and found there was a scarcity of information. That is how the idea of devising a more accessible and sustainable mask making system began taking shape. Annette's hot mask project is about giving everyone the know-how to make a better mask.

The project involves three main parts; first, the Multimask resource (a recycled paper face base with the original feature of embossed guidelines for simpler styling). Second, The Curriculum with Twenty Faces, a sequence of cross-curricular study guides for making masks. And third - her vision for the future - The Open Mask Academy, a portal providing free mask education resources

Background

The earliest "Aha" Annette can recall is when she was very little. Her Dad let her paint up an old kids bike and sell it through an ad in the newspaper. Annette was allowed to keep all the profit! Ahaaaa! But in reality for a truly dimensional idea to work there are lots of "Aha" moments. The whole hot project thing seems to work like a classic call to adventure, in three phases. First there's the platform-Aha (your champion idea pops into mind, but may take another decade or two before it comes to fruition), then comes the pathway-Aha (you must find a way of helping your idea stick, with many obstacles and helpers appearing along your path), followed by the context-Aha (you notice a welcome shift in the cultural setting that will facilitate your idea). With each "ah ha" you set about building the next piece of the puzzle.

Annette's vision all started with a precognition. Her original mental picture of children all around the world exchanging "mask stories" sprang into her mind one day at a rummage sale when she came across an old copy of The National Geographic Magazine, March 1957 issue about legendary Philadelphia artist, Mr. D. Roy Miller known as the "Pied Piper of Children's Art" (Volume CXI No.3 p365).

Long before the Internet existed Miller collected 12,000 young people's paintings from Iceland, Norway, Italy, Greece, Afghanistan, India, Cambodia, Japan, Australia, and Southern Rhodesia, contacting the ministers of education of all these nations by snail mail. Eventually Miller collected drawings and paintings from more than a hundred lands, the work of children of all colours and creeds. Miller noticed a "oneness" in these paintings..."can you feel it?" he asked. By exhibiting these works and by promoting international exchanges of art Miller hoped to encourage global understanding.

Annette's vision is similar and yet different. She invites young people all over the world to "see the world through paper eyes" by using the premoulded Multimask (instead of flat paper) as a way of putting their "best faces" forward.

 

Professional issue 

The trouble with artists - and Annette is one of them - is they tend to see masks as stand-alone art objects, as do collectors. This single point perspective helps keep Mask in a state of stasis, frozen in time.

Annette's biggest professional challenge was going back to university for a 'brain transplant' in her late forties. Leaving her humanities comfort zone (like the planet Venus) and A-grades behind, she went to business school (like the planet Mars) only the suffer the raw humiliation of unaccustomed D-grades. 'D' is not for Dumb, but for Daring to cross over to the 'dark side' of the Other; the strange and unfamiliar mindset of the entrepreneur. It takes courage to step out of your story into a new one, but such a humbling experience gives you another pair of eyes to see with.

Commerce and art have an uneasy relationship at times, but with her artsy-anthropology eyes plus her new entreprenurial eyes Annette sees Mask now as a "social technology" that cleverly reflects the economic, political and social ideas of its period - ideas which can, and do, change over time. The challenge today is to understand masks are more than just appealing 'exotic' art objects, they are resilient pieces of heritage that continue to evolve in vibrant ways.

From her mix of viewpoints Annette is better able to achieve what she set out to do; build a new architecture of mask making accessible to all. The key was learning the equation Arts + Commerce = Making magical things happen. Not Harry Potter magical, but from collage: magic comes from combining disparate elements of culture to build something new, in this case a stupendous educational resource for showcasing hidden talent in classrooms!

 

Personal issue 

Here in Aotearoa, New Zealanders are left with an unfortunate legacy - the "mask of modesty". Tall Poppy Syndrome is a kind of modesty related to our country's small size and stature on the global stage and our geographical isolation. When our founding fathers left the tyrannical English class system behind they set out to build a new society Downunder based on the ideals of fairness and egalitarianism. Sounds reasonable, but this pioneering idealism wears a darker face today. Over the past 150+ years many a New Zealander who dared stick their head above the crowd got chopped down to size.

Not only that, mask and costume - as a marker of class and excess - were abandoned in New Zealand which meant that one of the ways of connecting with a more authentic sense and presentation of ourselves was lost.

Too much modesty keeps you smaller than you need be. This national Kiwi "modesty mask" makes it harder for Annette personally. She knows she must make a big noise about how great her world-leading mask making model is, but until she can ditch her acquired "social mask" she can barely manage a shy squeak...

However, Annette has two mantras she chants to herself daily to keep herself going no matter what:

Mantra 1: "Do what you can do with what you've got right now" (which replaces perfectionism with a process of constant iteration), and

Mantra 2: "Just keep going girl, until you are stopped", and so far she is still moving...

Architecture of the Impossible - is it 'impossible' or does it just look that way?

There's something infinitely alluring about an impossibly difficult or complex or too-hot-to-handle project. Although Annette's main task is to demystify mask making so others can explore it openly and successfully, the creative enterprise of mask making is still transformational, one of the rare ways of rolling back the corners of the universe to understand its mysteries.

This is what New Zealand teacher and writer David Hill has to say about creativity: "When you write a play/novel/whatever [make a mask], you make a shape. It's a shape that implies you find something important; something moves you enough to make you want to understand it, to remember and acknowledge it." This is how Annette feels about masks. If you are a person who enjoys shaping their own thing, you'll 'get' Mask.

Annette just loves to build something from nothing, because 'nothing' is like 'impossible'; both are a test of faith. Having gotten on the wrong side of her parents early on, Annette left home when she was sixteen and moved into a tiny bedsit with no money for food or to feed the power meter. It was whilst walking along Stanmore Road, hungry eyes downcast, that she noticed something. The neutral canvas of the street pavement seemed to be offering her up this smallish dusty bundle of money (a reasonable amount of cash at the time). Ahha! Survival seed money! She took up the folded bundle and ran to the nearest fish 'n chip shop and had herself the best feed in ages. But that is not the end of the story. Years later, as she was stepping from her hot red sports car (things had improved for her financially), another smallish bundle of money must have fallen onto the road as it went missing from her coat pocket. Disappeared into thin air. Uberresourcefully, Annette still imagines she teleported the cash across time to her younger self in need...

A little bit of magical thinking combined with a continuing education at a world class university takes a smart girl a long way towards building her 'impossible' goals. Three pieces of wisdom for younger women in business: First, try treating 'failure' as a friend that moves you forward (the only mistake is not making enough mistakes to learn). Second, use your "hungry eyes" to notice everything that others cannot see! And third, throw out stuff that is no longer useful to your project. Peter Drucker called this strategy "purposeful abandonment". It works!