The man behind the masks

May 8, 2012 by
Jamal Thorne
Jamal Thorne speaks at the opening of his first solo show, “Frontin(g).” Photo by Meg Komarek

According to Jamal Thorne, everyone is wearing a mask — and prob­ably more than one.

That’s the premise of Thorne’s inau­gural solo art show, “Frontin(g),” on dis­play through June 3 at Northeastern’s Gallery 360. The large char­coal draw­ings on dis­play are the final works cre­ated by Thorne, the first recip­ient of a master of fine arts degree from the Art + Design depart­ment in the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design, a 3-year-old pro­gram oper­ated in part­ner­ship with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

“It’s this idea of acting or ‘per­formed iden­tity’: the dif­fer­ence between you when you’re in class or pre­senting some­thing at a formal event and how you are when you go out later on that evening with your friends and family,” Thorne said. “Your speech pat­terns change, your behavior pat­terns change — you wear a dif­ferent mask.”

Thorne’s work, which layers images of faces made up in dif­ferent styles or based on dif­ferent public fig­ures or arche­types, seeks to ask which iden­tity — which mask — is most authentic to an indi­vidual. His work is based in part on research by gender researcher and queer the­o­rist Judith Butler, whose ideas of iden­tity con­nect to pop­ular cul­ture, new media and cul­tural symbiosis.

“Car Dashin” by Jamal Thorne.

Thorne, who grew up a graf­fiti artist in the Wash­ington, D.C., area and studied drawing and pho­tog­raphy at Morgan State Uni­ver­sity in Bal­ti­more, said the coop­er­a­tive pro­gram offered by North­eastern and the SMFA pro­vided him the oppor­tu­nity to take advanced class­room courses at one campus while cre­ating art under the guid­ance of top-notch fac­ulty artists at the other. With this unique approach, his work in the class­room informed his art, and vice versa.

“It’s a very valu­able pro­gram because we are two dif­ferent insti­tu­tions that com­ple­ment each other,” said Xavier Costa, dean of Northeastern’s Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design. “They pro­vide the oppor­tu­nity to delve into studio art and fine art while we are focused more on inte­grating new media and technology.”

Costa said Thorne’s exhi­bi­tion showed off the best of both insti­tu­tions, dis­playing high tech­nical apti­tude in work based on thor­ough per­sonal and aca­d­emic research.

“Though the use of drawing, he is able to explore and dis­cuss iden­tity in a very com­plex way,” Costa said.

Thorne received his MFA on Friday after­noon at the grad­uate com­mence­ment cer­e­mony at Matthews Arena.

Gallery 360, open year-round, dis­plays col­lec­tions and unique works by North­eastern stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff, as well as noted artists from around the globe.

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