At the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, here on the University of Utah campus, a recent gallery exhibit opened in the ACME (Art. Community. Museum. Education.) Lab. This interactive exhibit space is currently home to Marisa Morán Jahn’s “Mirror/ Mask” collection. The exhibit uses collaboration and improvisation through intricate masks used in photographs, videos and GIFs. Jahn is a visiting artist to the UMFA — her home base is in New York. She currently is an art teacher at MIT and is the co-founder of the non-profit organization Studio REV-.
Jahn’s collection “Mirror/ Mask” holds a special place in her heart. She describes the exhibit as “how we see ourselves in others eyes … concealing yet revealing empathy, and exploring culture.” Being of Chinese and Ecuadorian descent, Jahn takes pride in her heritage and finds it intriguing (and almost brave) to pursue unfamiliar cultures within her work as well as her own. The artwork involves a mixture of sculpture, photography, video and GIFs to create vibrant and intriguing images for the viewer. The masks appear to take the greatest amount of time. Each are carefully sewn together to create intricate faces and confusing shapes. The reflective outer surface of the masks is used to figuratively reflect the viewer. Your culture and being are reflected in the eyes of another. For some, the mask can even end up being part of what Jahn calls a “camouflage effect,” making the wearer of the mask blend in with their surroundings.
With the masks being such a detailed and planned effort, the creation of the images and videos came primarily from an improvisational standpoint. Masks, and some of the ideas used for photography, have historical significance and implement beliefs from early cultures. But, as for the props, fabrics and placement of the body, Jahn and her assistants mostly just grabbed what was nearby and created complex, haunting images.
This artistic process began in 2017 and is continuing to grow to this day. Over this short time, Jahn has traveled all over to make these creations. Jahn created intimacy and trust with local families, primarily located in the Middle East and Africa. She would join them in their homes and everyone would sew masks together and she would learn about the cultural rituals of the people. In an artist talk held during the exhibit opening, Jahn described herself as a “compulsive collaborator.” Her deliberate collaboration with people she visits is often not the only collaboration used to create her artwork. Many others become involved in the creative process of this collection — her neighbor on the plane and even a random tour guide could end up folding fabric for the mask or be a model for a few photographs. Jahn’s artistic statements describe how “art is a license to explore and collaborate.” This idea of community and collaboration helps the exhibit appear even more relatable to the everyday person.
While all this collaboration is used for an artistic purpose in the creation of the exhibit, Jahn pointed out how interesting it is to learn about other cultures while trying to reflect them as accurately as possible while not necessarily being directly involved in the process. She mentioned how many people find it intimidating to travel and to be vulnerable enough to learn about different cultures. “People keep what they don’t understand at arm’s length.” Jahn decided it is her artistic purpose to bring all these cultures to a reachable place for those not exposed, so she created an interactive exhibit as part of her collection. It displays not only GIF and video projections and beautiful photographs, but also features an entertaining photo studio where visitors can recreate a selfie in a style similar to Jahn’s. Take a friend and enjoy some creativity with some of Jahn’s masks.
Having a passion for the collaboration of art and education, Jahn is extremely “enthusiastic about being here, [at the UMFA], with the curators and educators.” She is eager for students to see and be inspired by the work and is grateful for the support from the University. The Mirror Mask exhibit is here for the entire semester, held in the UMFA building across from the Department of Art and Art History and kitty-corner from the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building. Be sure to use your student ID to get in for free to check out this temporary collection as well as the many other collections in the UMFA this semester.