unmaking the mask

  • Masks are a sacred symbology of the indigenous peoples. When Canadian colonialist stole Indigenous children from their families and placed in residential schools, they attempted to drain the culture, the spirit from Indigenous masks to be filled and replaced by western values.
  • In this series, Belanger tries to visualize the mask of his industrial, colonial, capitalist culture. 
  • Inspired by Canadian artists Randy Stiglitz, Eugene Isaac, Bill Henderson, and contemporary artist Kent Monkman, Brian Jungen, Belanger wanted to find his cultures masks that seem to have been lost, hidden or ignored. Besides Halloween, where masks are worn for comedic, or horrifying effect, that allow for little meaning aside form allowing a troubled and cynical culture to mock itself rather than change its ways.

  • Where First Nation masks borrowed inspiration from nature and animals, “First World” Nations would ignore nature and focus on their monotheistic religion, factories and commerce. Our masks wouldn’t be unique or made of wood and feathers but instead they would be mass produced and made of metal and plastic. Belanger believes automobiles and Christian symbols are possibly the closest thing to masks in the industrial age. They are decorated, display status, they’re used in ceremonies, war, and they’re “worn” by millions despite knowing the effects they and the infrastructure has on the environment.
  • Using a digital camera Belanger took hundreds of photographs and digitally rearranged them on a computer to make a two dimensional digital sculpture. In homage to his ancestors, many images  couldn’t photograph himself, he stole from other photographers online. Belanger kept the framework of Indigenous masks in place out of respect for their resilient culture that to this day must resist being engulfed or erased by colonialism.
  • In viewing western masks, a culture where oil and profit is frequently put above people and the environment, where depression, suicide and lack of community is rampant, Belanger asks if it’s not colonialists who should ask the first peoples for forgiveness and if we can enroll in their school of thought.

  • Belangers note:
    I am aware that I have appropriated Indigenous art in this series.
    I almost didn’t go on with this project but I chose to do continue to knowingly take from a culture, rather than do it blindly like the colonial system does everyday on a grand scale.
  • The main inspiration for this body of work was the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudea, who adorns a Native tattoo yet still ignores the people he represents choosing oil and profit over nature and respect for community. Land is still being appropriated to make way for pipelines which is insanely disrespectful as it’s solely done to profit white colonialists.
  • This series is about looking at what it means to put on a mask, one not based on lies and corruption but to identify with something authentic and with integrity.   
  • I am not of indigenous heritage so talking to indigenous people and openly educating myself on their culture, their loss of culture, and my use of their sacred symbols for this series, is vital to the integrity of this project. Please let me know if I’ve offended you and how I can learn more about decolonization and how I can remove my cultural mask.