Emil Nolde’s “Masken III (1920) – Mask-Hands – A New Mask In Nolde’s Pantheon of Masks (These Condensed Images of Human Destiny)

Robotic Manipulation Of National And/Or Behavioral Minorities According To The New – Impersonalized Spirit Of Tam-Tam-Times

Emil Nolde, “Masken III”, 1920

In “Masken III” we encounter three masks (which are easily identifiable as masks). All three, it seems, signify the three groups of population classified according to their place in the social hierarchy and/or degree of influence in socio-economic affairs during Nolde’s times in Germany and, surprisingly, in US today, after the Congressional and Presidential Election of 2016.

The mask in lower left corner of the canvass represents, it seems, the national and behavioral minorities. This mask is without any facial expression – without internality. It is not expressing the essence of the face, as Nolde’s masks usually are. The face which is normally coded by the mask, is blocked, eliminated – this is exactly what it means to belong to the minority group in a society of inequality – to wear face like mask. The human face in the depth of the mask is blocked from the perception as the unwelcome otherness.

Above the first mask we see the other two (both with facial expressions) signifying two main categories of the population by how they treat the minorities of their countries. The mask in the center is yellow and the one next above it is green with the red hair and beard. The yellow mask-face is expressing kindness and pity towards, as if, the empty mask (of the dark-pink color metaphorizing the accumulation of shame by those who are treated as inferiors). The yellow mask’s expression is love and compassion, yet simultaneously, condescension. This kind of love is blended with inequality – it asserts the equality of love together with inequality of patronage. Look at the mask-face of this lover of the inferior people (the middle mask-face), it… kisses the representative of the refused minority, kisses tenderly and softly. On the other hand, the red-green mask-face with opened teeth cannot hide its fierce-and-furious expression. The green-red man behind this mask obviously hates the minorities of his home country. His slightly opened mouth cannot be taken for a smile because of the deep vertical wrinkles over his nose, reinforced by the aggressive configuration of his eyebrows.

The two universal positions towards the national-behavioral minorities taken by the two dominant groups of the population, we in US can define as conservative and liberal. People with liberal-democratic sensibility are prone to defend the hated minorities from people with conservative sensibility, by asserting the equal right to be treated fairly, justly, as equals. Depicting the two contrasting positions (liberal and conservative) towards the minorities in historical perspective, Nolde added to liberal “humanism” Madonna-like compassion and to conservative intolerance – stern and pompous pagan militancy. “Masken III” contrasts the both, liberal and conservative positions with neo-modern-post-modern posture towards minorities which recently has developed in the West as a result of the cultural mutation in Western countries. It is this new posture, it seems, that inspired Nolde to add mask-hands into his pantheon of masks-faces as an aesthetic tools (of understanding societal life) at the disposal of his talent. It is this new position is the main point of the painting.

This new kind of a mask in Nolde’s pantheon of masks doesn’t look like a mask. It looks like two hands in gloves. Yes, these hands in antiseptic gloves is, indeed, a mask corresponding to a new, changing position of treating the national and/or behavioral minorities. “Traditional” masks are masks-faces. They are the essence of human facial expressions – of the life of human soul. But this new mask – a mask-hands, is the essence of human manipulative mind.

Masks for Nolde were the expression of the human internal world, but in future, according to him (which we today are occupying with such bombastic noise), masks already don’t express human internal world. Today, the human beings are manipulating the environment including other human beings. Today, human interaction is in a much lesser degree exchange of human emotions and minds or confrontation of human individualities. It is rather instrumental contact – between rivals or between allies, between bosses and employees, consumers and sellers, consumers and producers manipulating consumers in order to stimulate their consumption, between entertainers and the entertained, and between achievements of various achievers, etc. Today we permanently measure and calculate our success in society and with each other. This high degree of calculation in what we are doing creates a psychological situation that our manipulating hands (in the gloves of effectiveness) moved by our calculating minds (our proto-hands) occupy the place of human soul – the naïve, often disinterested, passionate and now more and more superfluous as an instrument of our growing domination over the world. Like mask-face reflects human soul, mask-hands reflect our manipulative – handling position towards the world including other people. Mask-hands point at the soul which has transformed into manipulating hands-tools operating with technology and soft-wares in order to dominate.

Today, the masks of the inhabitants of the 21st century are masks of manipulative hands – of their mental prototypes inside our minds. Hands in the hygienic gloves is a metaphor of a functional, manipulative position of what before was the human soul, towards the world.

The problem of national/behavioral minorities is one of the basic problems in human societies, as it was in Germany of 20s and even much more so in Western societies of the 21st century. The point here is the question of new strategies of handling the minorities, besides two traditional one – liberal and conservative. The new position which Nolde depicts in his painting is that of a perfected manipulation. The fourth type of mask reflects the recent over-development of a technical reason at the price of losing humanness. Fight for domination is more effective when it is done not with hate as such but with hate’s derivative – robotic indifference of coldly and methodically planned repressive and eliminative behavior.