You used to sing with your mother when you were small. You would sing when you were baking; when you sorted the washing; in the bath. It wasn’t until you were older that you realised you never sang when your father or your brothers were around.
When you were in your teens they told you that you could not sing in public. You were welcome to join an all-female choir and sing behind closed doors. But you were banned from stepping out on stage to perform in front of an audience.
You asked why.
They said you would tempt men with your voice.
But you only sing to feel free, to feel safe – the way you felt with your mother – you explained.
They waved you away.
You wondered why the men couldn’t take responsibility for their own desires. You wondered about that a lot.
Then you saw that in other cultures people were allowed to sing in public. And you opted not to be silenced.
You sang on stage and they made a point of walking out. You felt a mix of triumph and despair, but began the next verse with a half-smile. The standing ovation swept away the pain of their rejection.
You meet other women who have lost their voices, one way or another. You read about them and encounter them – real and fictional. And years later you fall in love with a man you cannot have. He adores your singing; he just prefers men.
Now you choose silence for a while. Now silence is golden. Time to think, to explore, to consider who you are, what you can do and how you look. How you might transform yourself into something else.
Painting on a face is very different to working on canvas. Mountains and valleys and earthquakes of difference. You paint intricate images of leaves and landscapes and split personalities – him/her. It takes sixteen hours to create your temporary masterpieces – to become a living, breathing, fleeting piece of art.
This is no place for other pleasures. Even food. Sustenance must come through a straw to prevent the design from smudging, cracking, flaking off. To prevent the mask from slipping.
You enjoy the process of creation. The cool sweep of paint on skin. It calms you, combining artistic skills. Showing true colours.
Now you are understood. You understand. The threads are binding together with each brushstroke. No noble mind o’erthrown.
The brutal removal is yet to come. You’ll whimper in despair as you destroy your own creation. Yet removal will bring back life and you hum to yourself as you erase. Then sleep.
This look is an illusion, made up of makeup. But its shadow will linger long.
Through silence, you’ll return to song.
> Find out more about Tamar Geist’s exhibition, Serenade on Skin, and related events
Image ©Tamar Geist