I used the plague doctor mask in my work for the first time in 2005 visually relating the nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosies to a personal experience of loss and heartbreak. Watching on the news of the cleanup of the destruction of Hurricane Katrina to my home state of Mississippi later in the summer of 2005, I started to use the mask in my work as a metaphor for human ignorance. I’ve been extending the metaphor of the mask regularly as ignorance relates to different topics that my work addresses.
15 Years +
Plague Doctor Series
As a whole, most images of the figures in the work manifest a contemporary interpretation of a tronie (an image of a head, face, or expression, but not a formal portrait), where the human figure wears a plague doctor mask, or rather my exaggerated and distorted version of the historical mask. The mask, as a consistent image throughout, is intended as both a direct metaphor for the ignorance that burdens humanity despite the era or advances in technology and how humanity is destined to wear this mask as a penance for tradition and circumstance. The actual mask (and the rest of the costume) used by the doctors during plague outbreaks was for protection from what was thought to be a miasmatic disease (airborne or from bad air). Survival depended on the knowledge available during this harrowing time and now we know that the intended protection was futile. The prints also mirror how in life we depend on masks of ignorance to perform, as in theatre, specifically Commedia dell’arte. The character roles, types and themes found in Commedia dell’arte depend on physical masks to perform parodic scenarios to bring about awareness of political, economical or social crisis, but all the while, the performer hides his true identity and individual voice, strapped by the weight of tradition linked to what the mask represents.
In life we are plagued by ignorance when it comes to love, jealousy, finances, relationships, status, beliefs, politics, habits and death, yet, in some ways, we use this taxing obliviousness to protect ourselves.