On the Jewish holiday of Purim, it is customary to dress up in costume in order to reenact and retell the story recounted in the Book of Esther (the Megillah). Costumes and celebrations also mark Persian Jews’ freedom from the threat of death in the Purim narrative. King Ahasuerus and his minister Haman had a plot to kill the Jews of Persia, but through the intervention of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, the plot was averted. Masks are often worn to represent the themes of deceit and hidden identities that are prevalent throughout the Purim story.
This mask, titled Esther of Inner Vision, was created by artist Dina Dar in the 1980s. The mask contains bright colors and patterns painted on cajeput tree bark. A woman’s face is drawn on the mask with a Star of David placed on the forehead between the eyes. The star’s placement represents the third eye or “inner vision.” Two sides of the face on the mask are painted in two different colors, perhaps depicting a shadow or a two-sided nature. This imagery alludes to Queen Esther’s role in the Purim story, in which she reveals her hidden Jewish identity to King Ahasuerus in order to prevent the Jews in Persia from being killed.
Originally a painter, Dina Dar (1939-1995) eventually became an innovative contemporary artist. She is best known for her work using color copiers to create images, a form of art known as Xerox art or xerography. Dar’s art often examines themes of Jewish identity and Jewish history, whether through her experience as a hidden child in the Holocaust, the history of marranos (hidden Jewish communities forced to convert to Christianity) in Portugal, or the Purim story via the Esther mask. Dar’s work was featured at the Cincinnati Skirball Museum in the 1988 exhibition Between Holy and Profane and the 1992 exhibition A Loop of Fate: Dina Dar's Odyssey to Jewish Portugal.