Ben Ortiz unmasks masked art


When Ben Ortiz isn’t curating Cornell University Library’s Hip Hop Collection, he’s bringing art to the world. Ortiz’s latest work – mask-inspired paintings – is on exhibit at Ithaca’s Lot 10, 106 S. Cayuga St. through Oct. 31.

“The cultural groups whose mask artwork influenced this painting series originate in western and southern African countries,” said Ortiz. “There are also a few pieces inspired by indigenous groups in the Central America and Pacific Northwest.”

His exhibition was created this summer using spray paint, acrylic paint and grease pencils on locally sourced, sustainably harvested pine.

Ortiz became fascinated with masks as a kid, when his father brought him two from a trip to Cuba in 1988. Today he has 40. He said they’re brilliantly creative, wildly exaggerated and visually striking depictions of the human face.

“Masks have been a particular fascination of mine since I was a child. As an artist, they are powerful to me. I see them as ingenious ways of viewing ourselves and capturing aspects of our humanity that we’ve either forgotten or never saw before,” Ortiz said.

Blaine Friedlander