"Masking Myself" reflects Driskell’s interest in Cubism, as well as African art, itself an inspiration for that western style of pictorial abstraction. The artist made his first trip to Africa in 1969. He returned in 1970 and again in 1972, when he undertook a multi-nation lecture tour about African American art under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. In a statement accompanying an exhibition of his work at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in 1973, Driskell noted: “There are times when I would like to set the whole world right by making images that speak out my convictions. In recent years, I have turned my attention to images that reflect the exciting expression that is based in the iconography of African art. In so doing, I am not attempting to create African art. Instead, I am interested in keeping alive some of the potent symbols that have significant meaning for me as a person of African descent."
Driskell’s interest in the multifaceted nature of identity finds reflection in this self-portrait drawing that is explicitly concerned with masking, a theme explored extensively in historic and contemporary African American literature by such authors as W. E. B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison. How an artist presents oneself to the world and the attendant questions Driskell poses regarding his own relationship to society reveal an awareness of personal vulnerability emblematic of tremendous courage.
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