Altgeld’s Noh exhibit unmasks culture, beauty

Traditions Transfigured features Noh masks created by Bidou Yamaguchi including “Maria Teresa.” 

By Alexis Malapitan

Bidou Yamaguchi pulled inspiration from around the world for the beautiful Traditions Transfigured art exhibition in the Altgeld Hall Art Museum.

Yamaguchi, a master Noh mask creator who curated the exhibition, hosted an informative public artist talk Tuesday in Altgeld Hall. He spoke in depth about the exhibit, which includes his unique work from national and international collections, private and public.

Yamaguchi said performers of Noh, a type of musical Japanese drama, wear masks with neutral expressions that cover imperfections and allow audiences to focus on the performance; however, he tries to incorporate emotions into his masks.

Yamaguchi explained how pieces of metal have to be used to create the eyes for masks of men and women. Slightly burning the mask to a crisp to darken its color is another time-consuming process, he said.

While I enjoyed the exhibit as a whole, the artist talk was the one thing that truly captured my attention because the audience got to know Yamaguchi on a personal level and learn about his artistry.

Not only does Yamaguchi specialize in mask making, but he also focuses on paintings by other artists as he replicates them in mask form.

“I try to do as much research as possible to get how the original artist was feeling at the time, just to get the mood of the piece,” Yamaguchi said. “I get my inspiration from past artwork from other artists so that I can imitate their work and put my own twist on it by making their painting 3-D in mask form.”

I especially enjoyed the Mona Lisa mask he showed in the presentation because he incorporated the painting’s history into his creation. The effort and realism Yamaguchi put into his art was apparent and made it all the more appealing.

I found it admirable how Yamaguchi explores cultures and tries to show diversity through his creations.