The Qnushyo Mask Workshop

The story of how I came to Qnushyo is not very romantic or exciting. I met Eva, one of the volunteer coordinators of the Qnushyo centre, in a fairly generic way – via facebook. She posted about needing theater people and I messaged saying that I am a theater person but only staying in Istanbul for a short time, and not so experienced with children. She messaged back to meet, and the result of our meeting has left an great impression on me as well as the 15-20 students who were able to take my workshop.

I chose to make plaster Commedia dell’arte masks with the children because I wanted to expose them to something different and difficult. The process to make a mask is long and requires a lot of patience. Activities with such requirements are not usually chosen for children, which is a norm which I challenged.

When I arrived at the first session, there were some people sitting in the lounge/tea area at the entrance resting. Some children were also in the room and after greeting me they took me upstairs and immediately began to help with whatever I needed to prepare for the activity. Each session after this worked in a similar way but with more children each time eager to help.

The first step to mask making is to work in partners, delicately massaging coconut oil onto the face to prevent the plaster sticking to the skin and then placing wet plaster on the partners’ faces to create a half mask. In this stage not only did the children have to touch each other’s faces but they had to be careful that their partner wasn’t uncomfortable, mostly by avoiding getting plaster water in the eye. They did this step with the utmost care and compassion for each other. This step is also very soothing, due to the act of touching and being touched.

I think that this exercise was extremely successful. Not only did the children exhibit extreme patience but they learned how to create something physical from an idea in their minds. Socially it created an atmosphere of experimentation and exploration. During my time at the center I became a part of the family. Even some children that in their own worlds avoid each other ended up putting their differences aside to put plaster on each other’s faces or to help them finish painting/sculpting their mask. It was extraordinary - the creativity and imagination with which the children approached this activity, coming up with characters and forms I would never dream of. This experience was a great learning curve for me as an artist and it has given me many ideas for future more substantial projects.

I learned through this workshop that to play with children is the greatest joy an adult can experience. As adults when we spend time with them, we challenge ourselves to become more like them, otherwise they out-wit us at every turn. Their ingenuity is unmatched. Adults have much to learn from them.
— Sasha