The man behind 250 masks | ET REALITY


As a child making home videos, Marcel Dzama, 49, asked his father and sister to cover their faces with masks because they couldn’t stop smiling. Best known today for his ink and watercolor drawings, the Canadian artist continues to use masks in his dream work, including in his first performance, “Living on the Moon (By Lorca)”, a tribute in music, film and dance to the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. Commissioned by New York Performa BiennialRunning through Nov. 19, the performance sends a procession of masked characters into the halls of the Abrons Arts Center theater on the Lower East Side.

The collection: Handmade masks, in materials ranging from paper to wood and fabric.

Number of pieces in the collection: Around 250.

First buy: “When I was 8 years old, my grandmother went to Hawaii and asked me what I wanted. I said, ‘A mask.’ It was made of ceramic and had a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other. It was destroyed in a fire at my parents’ house in Winnipeg in 1996, so I later recreated it.”

Last purchase: “I just got this 1920s printed fabric at a flea market in Brooklyn for about $40 for artist Mamma Andersson. I have been sending her masks because she likes to paint them.”

More expensive: “Probably these 40 wooden masks from Guadalajara (in Mexico). I worked in the ceramic factory of a friend, José Noé Suro Salceda, whose brother had been murdered years before. Joseph inherited his collection of masks, but he couldn’t look at them because he felt too sad. So I changed about 10 drawings and some photographs.”

The most strange: “The weirder, the better for me. I bought this Michael Jackson one in Hong Kong from a street vendor who sells rubber masks outside the David Zwirner gallery.”

The most precious: “My 11-year-old son made this bird mask. He used feathers we found on Long Island, took apart a tambourine, and used the little cymbals for the eyeballs.”

Last favorite: “I made a mold of an alien mask that I bought on the street. For the film Performa we needed an exploding head. We filled it with condoms filled with spaghetti and chocolate sauce and broke it, dropping a watermelon painted like the moon on top. It will make sense in the movie.”

The most coveted: “The surrealist poet André Breton had these really beautiful and intricate African masks in his office. I would choose one of those.”

Other collections: “When I moved to New York from Winnipeg in 2004, I sold my record collection. I thought that would be the end but, a year later, I had practically bought them all again.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Leave a Comment