Noh mask carver, instructor, and performer Rebecca Ogamo-Teele delivered a talk titled “Finding the Form of Feeling: The Noh mask carver’s quest and solutions along the way” at Pomona College’s Oldenborg Language Center on Tuesday, Oct. 25.
Noh is a Japanese traditional masked drama with dance and music, originating in the 14th century. Noh dramas are expressive through their slow movement, poetic language, and monotonous tone, and they are mainly known for their masks.
Ogamo-Teele discussed the structure of these masks during her talk, focusing on how altering small details on the mask can completely change the emotion the mask expresses. Using photos of masks from popular noh dramas as examples, she emphasized how details such as “round eyes express tension and grief while square eyes give off relaxed expressions.”
“The most interesting thing I found was the emphasis on the shape of the eyes,” Nina Zhou PO ‘19 said. “They would carve round eyes for masks representing angry men or evil demons and square eyes for mothers. That's a feature I've never really considered before.”
Ogamo-Teele explained that each noh mask is unique in that it has different central energies, which are “not necessarily at the physical center of the mask.” This skill is difficult to learn and can take several years to master.
Since noh dramas traditionally have male leads, the majority of noh masks are made to mold to male faces. This is particularly challenging for women, especially as more women are becoming noh actresses, and noh experts strongly believe that actors must have the same “energy” as their masks in order to execute their role to the fullest.
“As a woman, what is important to me is that the masks, which are made for men, don’t look like they’re floating on women’s faces. My personal challenge is to create masks for women to allow them to join their own energy into the mask so they can be more expressive,” Ogamo-Teele explained.