Behind the Mask

2019 Editions Lani Tunzi November

By Lani Tunzi

Many of the art projects I’ve been involved with – making props for school dances, a giant skull for a Dia de los Muertos celebration, decorations for our senior class haunted house, various art class assignments – have one thing in common:

Cardboard. Leftover and discarded cardboard, to be exact, that is repurposed into art using a technique I learned in fifth grade – which is when I also learned that one’s man trash is another man’s treasure, a proverb I still live by.

The fifth-grade experience was a class project to build a labyrinth for our school Harvest Festival. The idea was to fill the labyrinth with monsters and other creatures of Greek myth.

Our teacher showed us that all we needed was a bit of paint, papier-mâché, duct tape and a lot of scrapped cardboard. She taught us a method for transforming an insipid brown box into a three-dimensional creature: Basically, take a flat piece of cardboard, cut it into an oval, cut slits into the edge, creating sections that can be overlapped and taped together, resulting in a mask.

We then constructed cheekbones and other facial features with newspaper, papier mache and paint.
The walls of the labyrinth were also formed from reconstructed cardboard boxes, all taken from the waste bins of local supermarkets and other businesses. The end result was a lively maze, creeping with cardboard Medusas, Cyclopes and chimeras, costing no more than petty change.

As I have used the mask-making method over the years, I have seen that no two creations are ever alike, the possibilities are endless, you never know what you’re going to get, which makes the process exciting and surprising. But it all starts with the humble cardboard. I have integrated the mask sculptural method into my selected media for art class with cardboard I dive for in the dumpsters of the school parking lot.

For me, creating art from discarded boxes is the epitome of recycling. And seeing trash as treasure, transforming trash into treasure, is the lasting lesson of that long ago fifth grade project


Lani Tunzi is a senior at Eagle Rock High School.