You Can Hide but You Can't Run: Interdisciplinary and Culturally Sensitive Approaches to Mask Making

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    You Can Hide but You Can't Run: Interdisciplinary and Culturally Sensitive Approaches toMask MakingAuthor(s): Christine Ballengee-Morris and Pamela G. TaylorSource: Art Education, Vol. 58, No. 5 (Sep., 2005), pp. 12-17Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 16/06/2014 02:44

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    Incorporating current popular media with past ideologies and styles can lead to integrated art curriculum that is relevant and applicable.

    use mask making, a

    popular activity in art classrooms, to

    illustrate the ways that cultural sensi

    tivity and interdisci

    plinarity inform our

    teaching and learning practices in art education.

    You Can Run With It

    As Paulo Freir?

    (1998) contended, students must have

    ownership in their education by living and producing in a

    society. Students need to understand that they are the

    makers of culture and

    society and they detenriine and are

    The term and idea of culture is often misunderstood and thought of as a static and esoteric entity that is outside of one's lived experience (Ballengee-Morris &

    Stuhr, 2001). As individuals, we have

    multiple cultures that include the

    personal1 as well as those influenced by national and global identities. The more that is learned about various members of a particular group and its history, heritage, traditions, and cultural interac

    tions, the more complexly and richly one can understand the social and cultural

    groups to which they belong (Stuhr, 1999). The idea is to find relevant connections.

    National, state, and local standards are built on theories of psychosocial, cognitive, and structural development (Gardner, 1991). As students go through cognitive developmental stages, they also

    experience cultural identity development (Sanford, 1966), wherein individuals

    increasingly become capable of

    integrating and acting upon many different experiences and influences.

    When students view themselves as knowledge producers, they move toward the

    first step of owning their education. Students come into the classroom with

    knowledge, experiences, and perceptions that enrich the development of curriculum.

    what we do in art education. Connection to and with others encourages integrated learning and thinking. Utilizing inter

    disciplinary instruction, integrating the

    curriculum, and connecting issues and

    disciplines to students' lives stimulates relevant and meaningful learning while

    providing coherence for curriculum

    (Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr, 2001; Beane, 1993; Brandt, 1992; Jacobs, 1991; Wiggins, 1992). The arts and visual culture are

    powerful vehicles for creating such

    understanding. Incorporating such current popular media as television,

    movies, music videos, computer

    technology, advertisements, magazines, and newspapers with past ideologies and styles can lead to an integrated art curriculum that is relevant and applicable to our students' lives. In this article, we

    determined by economic-political ideological context of the society in which

    they live. When students view themselves as knowledge producers, they move toward the first step of owning their education. Students come into the classroom with knowledge, experiences, and perceptions that enrich the develop ment of curriculum. The ideal first step in

    developing meaningful curriculum is for teachers and students to discuss concepts and skills that they think are important and relevant to explore (Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr, 2001). This process is referred to as democratizing the power of education to the learners instead of a transference

    philosophy (Freir?, 1998). Sociocultural

    issues, questions, problems, concepts, or topics could begin at the students'

    personal cultural identity level.

    No matter what particular or combined theories are utilized to create standards and curricula, the basic foundation is built on sequential skills that review old

    knowledge and hopefully promote new

    knowledge (Gardner, 1991). Taking the national standards and developmental stages into consideration, as well as

    reviewing 25 states' standards and recommended textbooks, similar themes or topics were introduced and studied in each grade.

    During the first 2 years in the primary grades, the students explore self and their

    relationship with and to family. The next

    year students study community, and by the fourth grade, students are exploring their state. Fifth-grade students explore national histories and culture, and sixth


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  • So, how do you approach the area of mask making in a relevant and

    connected way to students' lives and not demean cultural groups which you had hoped to honor? We suggest that you begin with what

    the students know?begin with the students.

    graders begin to study global connections. Middle and high school students revisit those themes or topics, but the complexi ties and ambiguities are often included

    (Gardner, 1991). As students are "me"

    oriented in elementary years, they become "self aware" during middle school

    and are influenced by peers and the

    belonging to peer groups. For this reason

    the repetition of these areas is not only more theoretically complex, but is

    changed from an "I" to a "we" perspective in high school. Using this approach as the foundation of curriculum development,

    areas, issues, and themes should be

    closely related to the cultural develop ment stages and state curricula guidelines for strong discipline connections and

    relevant educational opportunities.

    Another component to curriculum

    development that should be considered is visual culture. Visual culture deals with

    images from everyday life such as televi

    sion, movies, music videos, computer

    technology, advertisements, magazines, and newspapers. These images create

    meaning and a vision of life for our students (Taylor & Ballengee-Morris, 2003). Developing knowledge and skills is a process that is dependent on connecting information that students already have

    with new information. This connecting

    implies that the processes are inquiry based and intimately involve the students and teachers in the curriculum through which new knowledge and skills are


    You Can Hide With It Probably the most misguided approach

    to mask making is the typical "Making African Masks" project. Only schools in the continent of Africa could authenti

    cally teach such a unit because their students are African and therefore could be said to make African masks. In

    addition, the idea or labeling of "African"

    is also problematic (Ballengee-Morris &

    Stuhr, 2001; Efland, Freedman, & Stuhr, 1996). Africa is a continent that includes such countries as Egypt, Sudan, Angola,

    Nigeria, and Ethiopia. An authentic

    approach to the study of representative art from the continent of Africa would include the country and culture rather

    than the blanket-labeling of only the continent name. Problematic, too, is the

    fact that "Egyptian" art is typically studied as separate from "African" art even

    though Egypt is an African country. This

    being said, we feel that it is important to note that although we are not pointing fingers here, much of what and how such

    topics as mask making are taught in class

    rooms is a result of a product-driven or

    teacher-proof curriculum. In other words,

    relying strictly on such products as multi

    cultural poster packages or mask-making

    packaged lesson plans to teach the art of other cultures without critically and

    creatively re-thinking and making the information provided in the packages relevant to our students' lives can be

    deleterious to say the least.

    Forms of cultural re-representation become especially problematic and conflictive when the images and objects such as masks have significant, sacred,

    spiritual, or religious meanings for the

    social group from which they are appro

    priated or when they are used in a fashion

    that misrepresents and maligns that social group. So, how do you approach the area

    of mask making in a relevant and

    connected way to students' lives and not

    demean cultural groups which you had

    hoped to honor? We suggest that you begin with what the students know?

    begin with the students. The following examples?the first comes from a middle

    school and the second from an elemen

    tary setting?exemplify this approach.

    Transformation In a small city in Ohio, we engaged with

    a middle school to provide support for the teachers who were interested in using an

    integrated curriculum approach. In this

    middle school, the 8th-grade team that included the music and art teachers

    reviewed essential areas that needed to be covered for their proficiency tests and to meet the needs of the state and local curriculum guidelines during the spring prior to year ending. As a way to

    introduce themselves, the teachers each

    met with the students for half a day as a transition to the next grade. This team had chosen to use their time to brainstorm with their future students for themes, issues, and interests that might be connected to the subject areas and

    necessary topics for the following year's curriculum. One of the issues/topics that

    was apparently popular was visual

    identity?looking good, fitting in, cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, and fear of

    being noticed.

    After the brainstorm session, the teachers categorized the themes and issues and chose to begin the year with a visual identity unit. The art and music teachers suggested masks as a guiding teaching theme that helped connect

    required topic areas for testing. As one

    teacher stated, "Essentially masks

    provide possibilities to transform oneself for multiple reasons" (personal communi

    cation, 2002). Since transformation had been the students' interest, it seemed that it would make a good key concept2 for

    mask making. Questions to explore that would serve as central for intra- and inter

    cultural understandings include: Why do we transform? How is transformation

    achieved in our society? What images do you associate with transformation? What

    is transformation?


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    Once teachers brainstormed and chose subject areas connected to this unit, the next step was to decide the guiding question and the forms of visual culture and art that might be included. The

    guiding questions were, What is transfor mation of the body? Why do humans transform their bodies? Why do we transform? Does transformation of the human body change identity? There are

    myriad possibilities of issues that could be included within this framework: identity, body awareness, health issues, societal norms, cultural traditions, political trends, and global influences.

    First, the teacher displayed the

    questions and the students discussed them in small groups. The teacher observed gender division within the groups that were gender mixed. In other words, females talked to each other and males talked to each other with little cross dialogue. Discussions were

    recapped for all class members, and a student served as a recorder, documenting key points, issues, and ideas. The teacher asked each member to bring in magazine

    clippings that illustrate some of the ways our society transforms the human body. The next day students hung the clippings on a bulletin board and discussed the ways people transform their bodies now. Some students began to ask about the past. Students raised the idea of "normal" and they explored related questions. For example, students discussed what it means to be normal, who detennines the standards of normalcy, as well as trans

    foixning bodies to break social norms, and how we transform to meet societal norms. The clippings were used as a resource to discuss multiple ways and reasons for transformation. Kiss, a

    musical group; a theatrical play ad for Phantom of the Opera; Mask, the movie with Jim Carrey; a baseball catcher; a racecar driver; makeup advertisements; and Star Wars characters such as Darth Vader were among the top examples.

    The students explored the visual

    images that they felt represented their

    culture(s) and masks in their time and how that mask transforms. Students wrote about their experience with this

    Several students viewed

    makeup as a socially ordained mask that females were required to

    wear or else be shunned.

    issue. Once they completed that assign ment, the students began a self-directed



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