Unmasking my divine

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Pictured above: Laquisha Osun. Photo by Patrick Young.

We’re delighted to be partnering with Contemporary Mosaic Arts 2 (CMA2) to give you complimentary online access to one of our artist interviews or features every month. We hope you enjoy reading Wasentha Young’s writing about her passion for creating masks. She explains why she loves the visceral quality and divine nature of her mosaic creations and how she feels transformed during the process of manifesting of what she calls “spirit” mosaics.

By Wasentha Young

Listen to Wasentha Young narrate her article:

Masks are traditional, worldwide. Through them, deities, spirit animals, elements and ancestors can be expressed. Expressing beliefs and culture, and/or worn during cultural events, these voices can be heard without limitation, walking the line of dual existence. 

What makes my masks contemporary is they are transfigurations culturally steeped in the African/American experience. Each mask is a multidimensional expression – physical, emotional, and spiritual. They are rooted in the collective and historical African and American voice. The speculative abstractions are synthesized into a symbolic piece. Each mask has a profound meaning and rhythmic pulse of conscious and unconscious vibrations voiced. 

Embracing my human, sometimes whimsical, portrayal of the ever-present unspoken world, each mask can challenge or find solidarity within the viewer. For me, an interconnecting power bridges the supernatural divine and the intelligence of my emotions. 

I do an outline sketch for each mask prior to its material emergence. So, the shapes are planned, but there are always surprises in the construction of the substrates. The materials I use – including stones, minerals and shells – offered their challenges. So, in addition to engineering the substrate, I have to step out of the way and let the materials find their place and voice. 

These masks are listed in the order of manifest. They can be displayed on a pedestal or hung.

African / American 2020 Mood 
Size: 20” h x 8” w x 8” w (with the stand) 
Materials: Slate, turquoise, marble, septarian, petrified wood, green opal, obsidian, brown quartz, coquina jasper and sandstone. 

African / American 2020 Mood. Photo by Patrick Young

This was the first mask I created. The event of George Floyd’s murder sent me deep into my “Blackness”. The voice came screaming from the depths of the Nigeria African coast to that day. From the identity scars to the tears the voice reached, barely able to touch but knowing the “other” was there, daring to feel the connection. Desperately, I began looking for an outlet, a way to release the anguish. It drove me to start my mask series. I needed; it needed to be seen/heard. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD – emotions felt from the constant and aggressive violent oppressions we Africans as Americans continue to be subjected to daily. 

This mask was my first attempt to build a substrate with multiple parts. It had to be constructed in a way without fault and no possibility of accidental breakage. It was also a study of using slate to form movement and expression. The hands, nose and lips were built separately as a substrate. Once attached, I applied the tesserae. 

 16” h x 11” w x 1.5” d 
Materials: Kyanite (green, blue), tiger’s eye, shell, petrified wood (red and brown), quartz crystal (brown, red, yellow), marble, black garnet, smalti glass, labradorite, hemp twine partially pigmented, brass and aluminum gold leaf powder. 

Nia. Photo by Patrick Young

Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture, underpinned by seven principles. One of Kwanzaa’s principles is “nia”, which means purpose. It’s about making our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

The voice breaks through even when it is attempted to be silenced. SAY IT LOUD! With the eyes of a leopard the power and strength of surviving, the African/American voice speaks out time and time again. As it must. Undeniably, we surface with reinforcement and conviction to celebrate our community, strength and resolve. 

The use of the tiger’s eye stones, having the fist emerge from behind the mask and creating the crown all needed care-filled solutions. The fist and the third-eye jewel were smaller substrates that I placed onto the mask and crown. 

Divine Sounding 
 18” h x 13” w x 4” d
Materials: Apatite, Orsoni gold, smalti glass, jade, lava rock, calcite quartz, obsidian, petrified wood, black and red ruby, blue and black kyanite, black tourmaline, sapphire, blue calcite, slate, pyrite, stone, marble, green opal and stromatolite painted with aluminum gold powder.   

Divine Sounding. Photo by Patrick Young.

The voice in this piece holds a divine expression that spans throughout time. It is an original source in voicing, music and connection with spirituality. Divine Sounding is a tribute to my ancestors’ “living” vibration. It is a thing of beauty and creativity, an expectation almost, that when it is heard you will be spiritually moved. 

This mask required some real engineering. Not only in the building of the substrate, but in the materials as well. The feathered helmet and horn-shaped mouth with lips took finding solutions that would be sound. The cheeks had to hold and release air and the spirit of the eyes needed to connect with the divine. 

Laquisha Osun 
 18” h x 11” w x 4” d (with pedestal)
Materials: Lapis, citrine, amazonite, lava rock, obsidian, blue barite, blue calcite, black tourmaline, blue, white and red coral, blue tiger’s eye, beach glass, black marble, fluorite, abalone shell, pyrite, smoky quartz, Orsoni gold and smalti glass.

Laquisha Osun. Photo by Patrick Young.

“Osun” is the deity of beauty in the Yoruba Ifa religion. She is a river goddess and is always portrayed with a veil. 

This mask is the emotion of identities stripped. “Laquisha” (an urban name) is a full-bodied woman in the neighborhood who embodies the deity Osun. 

There is a story to this piece. Back in the 1970s, I happened upon a sculpted piece of Venus of Willendorf on a half shell. I found it a positive delight that a full-bodied woman was depicted as a beautiful goddess. So, I constructed the head for this mask in the shape of Venus of Willendorf. 

In my culture, there have been many images of Black women, full-bodied Black women, being shown as ugly (for example, Aunt Jamina on the pancake box), grotesque or even raunchy. In the framework of what was the dominant race, beauty was white, blonde, somewhat slender, and curvaceous, with slight features. That is so untrue, and an unnecessary restriction on how we experience beauty.

Generally, women are often faced with a focus on our breast; hence the saying, “eyes up here”. So, there is a comedic aspect to this piece in that the eyes are actually on the breast… Look all you want. (Smile.) 

The lips, breast and veil demanded a lot of thought process and construction. Finding the solutions for how to make and attach the veil without it obscuring the face was a lively process. I went back and forth to the hardware store. I had to call upon my previous knowledge of beading and leatherwork to properly design the veil and then apply it so that it was removable and could securely be reattached for shipping purposes. 

My next mask

I’m currently creating a mask that is all about our hair and the challenge other cultures seem to have with how we design and wear our hair. I think I will call that one Unapologetic. It will be posted on my website and Facebook page. 

Stay tuned.

About Wasentha Young
Born into a family of artists, Wasentha Young began to focus her study on mosaic art in 2006. She has developed her knowledge and artistic base under the tutelage of internationally renowned teachers. Wasentha has had solo shows and participated in group exhibitions in museums and galleries. Her creative subjects embrace transformation and the graceful or chaotic dynamics of energetic forces. Her deep understanding of mosaic styles is uniquely synthesized in her work. Her additional study since 1968 in tai chi and qigong, and a master’s degree in transpersonal studies, is demonstrative in her subject matter of conceptual time, symbolism, rites of passage and shamanic spirituality.

Photo by Peter Draugalis.


Web: wasenthasmosaics.com

Facebook: facebook.com/wasenthamosaics