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Throughout the history of the world, masks have been powerful symbols, reflecting individuality, culture, and even societal roles. From spiritual rituals to national traditions, masks have woven themselves into the fabric of human expression. But beyond the tangible, masks also carry a deeper meaning, prompting us to question: Who are we, truly?


Students in the Upper School Art History class explored that question as they delved into the complexities of masks. "We looked at a variety of masks from around the world, including Inuit masks and masks of the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl of the Northwest regions, to Dogon masks used in funeral rituals in Mali to contemporary masks worn today," said Art History teacher Molly Foresta. Students also read Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, “We Wear the Mask” and asked: "Do masks shield us from societal pressures or merely conceal our pain? Do we eventually become our masks?"

Eventually, students created their own identity masks, choosing what to reveal and what to conceal, challenging the labels society imposes. “You don’t consciously make your internal identity,” posed senior Mary Grahn. “I wanted my mask to be haphazard because you are constantly adding things to your identity.”


For senior Sarabeth Levin, family pride dominated her thinking. “I chose to incorporate the important parts of my identity – the Ukraine flag and the Israel flag, which represent my mother and grandmother, the two most important people in my life. Sometimes people wear masks to hide things, but I’m proud of my identity and how it has shaped me,” she explained.

Following an activity of accelerated sharing where students explained their vision and philosophy around their masks, they stopped by several Friends Academy colleagues’ offices and spaces to bring their projects out of the classroom and practice extemporaneous presentation.


“My mask is made out of clay,” shared senior Mia Kamensky. “I created this when I was 8 or 9 years old. It was already layered with paint and featured a quote on the inside, so I decided to add patterns. To me, this mask is telling me to trust myself. And even though I’m free to add patterns and different colors, I will always keep that core part of myself.”

Even Upper School Principal Mark Schoeffel displayed a mask given to him by his parents when the class stopped by. “When I was 18 at Christmas, my parents gave this to me,” he said, showing students. “They wrote a card with William Blake's ‘The Tiger’ and I've always kept it,” he recalled. “Masks are just incredible. This one is from Mexico… we collected masks as a family,” he added.




As students traveled down the stairs from Mrs. Lapointe’s office in the College Office to the Business wing, Mrs. Foresta took a moment to reflect on the lesson and activity. "Through sharing these masks, we hope to forge deeper connections and support one another in the lifelong journey to defining ourselves." 


Photography by Alvin Caal/Friends Academy

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