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CFP: Women & Masks

A Transdisciplinary Arts-Research Conference

September 24–26, 2021

October 29–31, 2021

February 11-13, 2022*

April 22–24, 2022

Call for Engagement: Deadline for Priority Consideration is Wednesday, August 15th, 2021; 11:59 p.m. EDT. Submissions are welcome on a rolling basis after 8/15/21, but space will be limited.

Conference Overview

Women and Masks is an international, web-based arts-research conference hosted by Boston University. It is open to anyone, and attendees can register for single or multiple events with no registration fee. The conference, which will take place across four weekends during the 2021–2022 academic year, explores the myriad intersections of the subjects masks and women. The pairing is intended to create a thematic, yet open-ended framing, giving rise to juxtapositions and rapprochements, generating unexpected insights. These insights are expected to lead to a rich inquiry into the significance of masking practices as they connect to women.

The mask, interpreted in its broadest sense, is one of the most ubiquitous objects across cultures. Women, a complex and diverse category of people, have specific histories and realities with masks and masquerade. The mask’s powerful and intimate association with the face and the body—as well as the psyche and the soul—crosses cultures, places, and times, revealing aspects of the private and the public body. Positioning the mask as the interstice between the internal and the external world raises questions across fields as diverse as psychology, politics, folklore, religion and ritual, medicine, activism, and play. Opportunities for making and animating masks within the conference are imperative, as they open modes of inquiry and engage embodied and arts-research methods.

The mask takes many forms—physically, psychologically, and culturally. It is best understood as a multifaceted phenomenon and not simply as a material object. Masks suggest, and then resist, a taken-for-granted quality (particularly as we emerge from a period of unprecedented global masking of a specific kind). When closely examined, a complex phenomenon unfolds in even the simplest act of covering the face. Masks invite (or even demand) nuance, complexity, and ambiguity. For the mask is a paradox; it both hides and reveals. Masks can fragment the self and distinguish the self from the “other.” They frequently engage concepts of alterity and transgression.

The rhizomatic interconnections of the mask generate unexpected resonances. When paired with the concept of women, masks can have nearly infinite meanings, all suggesting rich lines of layered inquiry. For example, women have often been effectively excluded from the use of masks in traditional rituals, theater, and masquerade. There are many examples across cultures of the use of masks by men to impersonate, animate, ridicule, instruct, and represent women—although sometimes paying homage. Yet, women have also developed and appropriated masks for agentive strategies that enable creative inventions and interventions. These have included masking as activism, challenging barriers, and reinventing male-dominated ritual and theatrical masquerade. Women frequently contribute to the handiwork and labor of mask fabrication, such as during the COVID pandemic, innovating within the interlocking dimensions of design, form and function, and aesthetics. Women have drawn upon the power of masks and mask imagery to shape-shift and explore the psyche's realms, other possible worlds, and the archetypal. We see the power of the mask in the work of modernist surrealists Leonor Fini and Leonora Carrington, as well as contemporary artists like Saya Woolfalk, who expands on the masks’ potential for world-making. Like moving décor, masks integrate into a virtual chimeric world. Veiling, in its many circumstances, might also be examined as a form of masking. The mask-like apparatuses of Rebecca Horn echo the metal scold’s bridle and a variety of devices that protect, punish, and control via the face. In addition, women’s interactions with cosmetic, surgical, and digital manipulations transform the face and raise further complex and ambiguous questions about agency and empowerment.

This inaugural conference cannot include every topic or be representative of even a fraction of cultures and circumstances. Hopefully, it will plant the seed for an ongoing conversation and generate new investigations into the theme of women and masks.

Conference Format

This free, primarily web-based conference consists of four weekends of talks, workshops, papers, panels, and performances on September 24–26, October 29–31, February 11-13*, and April 22–24. Participants can engage the conference’s diverse subjects in a variety of ways, choosing single or multiple virtual events from the many presentations, performances, and panels. Since the mask is material and phenomenological, there will be opportunities for embodied experiences, such as making and moving. There is also an open call to contribute a presentation (see below). The conference’s very structure aims to foster intra-resonant connections between performance, the visual arts, the humanities, and the sciences. Multiple forms of participation are encouraged—in particular, those that are unexpected, layered, and multi-modal.

The conference is free and open to anyone who would like to be involved. A few events may have limitations (see website for details). There may be additional sponsored events outside of the four weekends, and there may be a few events held in-person on the Boston University campus.

To register to receive an updated schedule and to register for individual events, visit: (Live as of 7/15/21)

*February 11–13 is co-hosted by the Boston University African Studies Center and specifically geared towards content related to Africa for pre-K–12+ educators. Priority will be given to participation that supports this specific context.

Call for Engagement

Papers, Performances, Presentations, and Workshops

Because of this conference's transdisciplinary nature and arts-research methodologies, we seek proposals for multi-modal participation in the form of papers, performances, presentations, workshops, and hybrid formats. We welcome engagement from emerging and established artists, educators, performers, scholars, lay presenters, and other participants who can contribute to this investigation through a multiplicity of approaches to understanding the relationship between women and masking practices. We welcome short experimental work and collaborations.

Due to limitations on in-person participation at the time of planning this conference, we will continue to use a virtual format, endeavoring to create experiences that exist in real-time and are connected, participatory, material, embodied, and performative. We are grateful for the opportunity that this allows for broad participation. If accepted, the submissions will be integrated into the weekends’ proceedings, based on the presenter’s availability and conference organization.

Below are some suggested contributions:

performances (pre-recorded or live) (5–8 minutes)

conversation (30–60 minutes)

interview with a mask artist (15–30 minutes)

studio visit (15 minutes)

academic paper (15 minutes)

provocation (5–15 minutes)

artist’s talk (15 minutes)

workshop (movement or making) (15–60 minutes)

demo of a technique (15–30 minutes)

guided experience (15–60 minutes)

hybrid (15–30 minutes)

link to a website or other content to feature on our website

Submissions should clearly describe a connection to the theme of women and masks; and articulate how the contribution will be offered on the Zoom platform, whether it will be live or pre-recorded, who the audience might be, and any limitations on group size and other details. Suggested formats and times:

We encourage hybrid submissions; please choose the category that best fits.

Papers and Presentations: Submit HERE

Workshops and Experientials: Submit HERE

Performances, Performative Talks, or Artist Talks: Submit HERE

Deadline for Priority Consideration: Wednesday, August 15th, 2021; 11:59 p.m. EDT. Submissions are welcome on a rolling basis after 8/15/21, but space will be limited.


We plan to offer an opportunity to publish selected work presented at the conference. More information on submitting will be forthcoming.


Please send an email to or visit

This conference is made possible by the following Boston University entities and initiatives: the Center for the Humanities, the College of Fine Arts, the School of Theatre, the School of Visual Arts, Art Education, the Arts Initiative’s Indigenous Voices Series, the African Studies Center, the Kilachand Honors College, and Cinem’Afriq.

More info:

Women and Masks- Official Conference Abstract 7 1
Download DOCX • 553KB

Women and Masks Official Call 7 1
Download DOCX • 833KB

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