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What’s in a face? A human face? What are its shapes and proportions? Can we read character from the face and its individual anatomical features (physiognomy)?  What happens when we cover the face with a false face or mask? How much of what we see in a visage translates between one culture and another? A study of the evolution of the human face in terms of biology (skin and bone) and genetics reveals an enormous diversity of possible shapes and proportions. The total configuration of a face in terms of inheritance, gender, age, culture and race is even more complicated to evaluate when the same face is covered with a mask.

The American poet Carl Sandberg wrote a short poem called “Phizzog” to highlight some of these issues in relation to what we are born with (nature) and what we change or are changed by (nurture). It reads as follows:

This face you got. This here phizzog. You didn’t get it by yourself, did you? Somebody came along and gave it to you and said: “There’s yours, now go and see what you can do with it”. This face you got, this here phizzog.

Since the dawn of time, it would appear that human beings have been preoccupied with the variations in a phizzog.

MASKS AND VISAGES by Malcolm Yates Knight

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