Masks and headdresses are powerful symbols in a wide variety of cultures and groups. By putting on a mask and becoming someone else, the participant enters a sphere that investigates power, identity, and oftentimes gender. Originally inspired by strong women personalities, I began to realize that these “disguises” have a larger significance. As I continued exploring into 2020, and every detail of our lives was overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the masks in turn projected an alternate meaning of protection and resilience. The sculptures became an exploration of beauty as radical thought. Although some of the pieces contain images of shields and helmets, it is the flower elements, those fragile essences that manifest as the resilient warriors on the metaphorical battlefield.
This body of work takes cues from fashion design and features metonyms for cultural resistance to create a celebratory iconography—looking both to the diversity of human cultures and to our shared futures. Drag queens, with their over-the-top make-up and costumes, create masquerades of gender identity that consistently challenge what being feminine means. African artists and tribes have long used masks and apparel to commemorate birth and death in their relationship to the cosmos and to the environment. For the Maya Indians, masks and headdresses were symbols of their gods and a physical way of representing spirits and intimidating their enemies. Mardi Gras Indians create colorfully designed suits and headgear that reflect both their vital musical history and the systemic inequalities that remain prevalent in society. These examples are a few of the inspirations that I drew on to construct the sculptures in “Radical Beauty.” There is no one isolated culture but a blend of spirits that exists in all of us. ~ Pamela Joseph
Antirrhinum (Snap Dragon) 2021 Acrylic and mixed media on plexiglass 57 x 39.5 x 3 in.
Prunus Cerasus (Cherry Blossom) 2020 Acrylic and mixed media on plexiglass 49 x 45 x 3 in.
Asteraceae (Dahlia) 2019 Acrylic and mixed media on plexiglass 41 x 46 x 3 in.