Teaching Children the Art of Local Mask Making
After a decade, CPI returned to Haiti in August 2022. We teamed up again with master mask-maker Didier Civil and helped him create workshops for 200 children in two cities, including a UNESCO Creative Network City, Jacmel. We discovered many talented artists over the six-week period, and we also fed all the children.
The workshop – which was more sophisticated than before – didn’t just teach the motivated, curious and talented kids how to work with papier-mâché. We also trained mask-making teachers, who can augment existing workshops as well as create new ones. They’ll ensure that mask-making continues to be taught in Haiti. Including girls in the workshop, and in an advanced artisan group, lets everyone know that girls can participate in the traditionally all-male world of mask-making.
The children have joined a community of esteemed artists.
We are about to enroll 20 children and kids into a “phase 2” workshop that will help them become professional mask-makers if they so choose. Ten of these students are girls, which is itself historic.
As with all of CPI’s projects, we are making every effort to integrate the workshops into the host communities:
- We operated on carefully chosen school premises
- Participating children were selected by their teachers, based on their artistic talent
- The children evaluated the quality of their work by comparing it to other, outstanding examples
- Basic materials for papier-mâché will be locally sourced — readily available newspaper, water, and homemade glue
- The children’s work ethic was strengthened, as was their self-esteem, sense of responsibility, and can-do spirit
Ideally, this project will eventually produce some professional mask-makers who, like Didier, can earn a living in an art that Haitians value.
Since mask-making is integral to Haitian culture, we want the workshops to be part of – and to reflect – their surroundings. Didier has created a mask-making “curriculum,” a literal how-to that will be available to future teachers globally. While it is based on his vast knowledge of mask-making, it’s also grounded in his experience in teaching the art to Haitian kids. It will be invaluable to future teachers, also outside Haiti, and help make mask-making workshops sustainable.
The children will be able to exhibit their work – another source of self-esteem – and some masks will be available for sale (masks are regarded as collectibles). All resulting funds will benefit the kids, the workshops, and their communities.
All over the world (even in the U.S.) masks are essentially celebratory, and people spend immense amounts of time on them. Yet while the celebrations are fleeting, they are culminations of intense personal effort so that the masks – and the experience of making them – become memorable. In this sense, mask-making reinforces people’s identities, even if the masks themselves represent other people or entities (for example, Voodoo demons at Carnaval time). So, in helping Haitian children learn to make masks, we are helping them to access a sense of sense-esteem, an elevated sense of their own identity notwithstanding earthquakes, hurricanes, and poverty. This is why CPI takes mask-making – a form of play – so seriously.