Identity and Masks at Casa Ilori, Costa Rica

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By the ILORI World Team


Circle of Love

In Casa ILORI, the space where children can explore who they are and how they relate to each other and their environment, is called “Circle of Love”. Using tools such as theater, dance, music, yoga, arts and games, this space fosters self-reflection and self-esteem. In Circle of Love, we encourage children to express creatively, with their bodies, words and emotions. Our approach is holistic, as we work towards the integration of body, mind and soul.


Therefore, the topic of building your own identity and personality is at the core of this space and to develop it, we use basic, everyday concepts to provide the children with tools and knowledge to help them in this ongoing process.
Some of the principles used to approach the topic of identity are:

  • Identity as a relationship with oneself. One recognizes oneself as a unique being, with one’s own history and personality.
  • Our individual identity is built through relationships, such as with family, friends, teachers, peers, etc.
  • We grow up in a community, and therefore the topic of communal identity is another aspect in the process of identity building.
  • We live in an environment which has influence on us, as we have influence on it.


Identity and Masks

The word mask in Greek means person; our face and our personality are part of our identity, of our singularity.
We use masks as a concrete element to explore the topic of identity. The whole process is developed through play, and using Theatre Pedagogy that encourages dramatic play and bodywork, which are essential tools in the learning process. We create a dialogue using body, words and imagination, to strengthen our sense of being through art and games.
When constructing our personal identities, it’s important to know where we come from, to know about our cultural heritage and our ancestral roots. This enhances our self-knowledge and generates a feeling of respect and gratitude toward our ancestors.

In Costa Rica several indigenous communities use masks to represent themselves and others. The indigenous communities of Boruca y Térraba from the southern part of Costa Rica maintain traditions such as the game of The Bull and the Devils, using beautiful, colorful, traditional masks. The Devils represent the indigenous people, who are chased by the Bulls, which represent the Spanish conquistadors. In the end, the Devils manage to defeat the Bulls who have chased them and taunted them the whole game.

Masks in the Circle of Love

Creating, decorating and using masks in the Circle of Love created a space to meditate on identity, a difficult topic for children as it requires introspection.

They played the ancestral game of The Bull and The Devils with enthusiasm and joy. Then they explored the relationship between the game and the indigenous cultures and the details of the masks by seeing a movie. Over several classes, each child built their own masks, after reflecting on their own sense of identity.


Children participating in the Circle of Love created colorful masks to represent their identities. The method of creating the mask was adapted to their ages and capabilities:

What we expected to achieve

While the children create a mask from their own faces, we encourage them to express their creativity, and to analyze their own identity from an outside perspective.

Throughout this process, the children may not always be aware of this, however looking at the way they draw, paint and decorate the masks, it’s clear they are expressing how they see themselves, how they identify themselves and how they want to be seen. Likewise, the way they treat the mask -some with the utmost care, others allowing it to fall or hitting it- reflects on how they feel about themselves. Giving them complete freedom when decorating the mask allows them to express, in an abstract way, what they perceive or what they want others to perceive. During the last stage of the process each child is encouraged to create a story about their mask, and tell it to the rest of the class. In this way the child can elucidate on each detail of their mask, as well as the concepts and values that they learned during the process. In a metaphorical way, through the character of the mask, they could express what they feel, their life experience, and what they wish they could be or do in life. For most of the children this was natural, they created their own symbolism and metaphors to express their identity.

Some thoughts
  • Encourages self-reflection and self-knowledge and inspires one to become introverted.
  • Strengthening the children’s sense of identity contributes to better relationships with families, peers and communities.
  • Strengthening the communal fosters hope and encourages actions that could better the community.
  • The process inspires the children to respect each other’s singularity, and encourages diversity and dialog between cultures.
  • The process encourages a respectful approach and appreciation towards indigenous people, and allows children to get to know their traditions.
What we learned

Children learned to express their identity through a fun, free process. Amanda, the facilitator of Circle of Love, considers that the activity was very fruitful, because the children got to express themselves and their way of seeing things. Amanda comments that the stories that the children wrote for their masks referred to themselves and their own life experiences, but they used metaphors. For example, a child said “it’s not me, it’s the story of a Transformer who felt sad”. “It’s an abstraction, it’s symbolic, so it’s nice how they talk about themselves through drawing, art, painting, singing, writing a story”. To Amanda, the stories that the children wrote were particularly revealing, because it was possible to see what was on their minds while making the mask.

Make a mask!
2- dimensional masks for children from kindergarten to 3rd grade
Materials: bond paper, construction paper, color pencils, scissors, glitter, colorful fabric scraps, wood craft sticks

  • Learn with the children how to play the Bull and The Devils.
  • After the game, show them the video of the Boruca culture (can be found at: )
  • Show images of the indigenous masks, and talk together about how they’re made and the materials used.
  • The children draw and color their own masks, interpreting the Boruca masks they previously saw and mixing if with their own preferences.
  • Cut the masks and paste them on the craft sticks
  • Decorate the masks with the glitter and fabrics, according to each child’s preference.
3-dimensional plaster masks for children from 4th to 6th grade
Materials: Plaster, plaster gauze, vaseline, acrylic paint, fine sandpaper, glitter, beads, elastic, and other decorative elements.

  • Apply vaseline to the kids’ faces• Wet the gauze in water and immediately apply on the child’s face. Kids can help applying the gauze to one another.
  • Allow the gauze to dry for about 2 0 minutes on the face and then carefully release from the edges to the center. Children can help removing the mask from one another.
  • Add water to the plaster until a fine texture is achieved. Apply the plaster mixture to the mask and wait for it to dry.
  •  Sand down the mask.• Apply a second coat of plaster, let dry and sand again.
  • Give the children time to visualize their mask. How do they want to paint it? What will it look like? Useguiding questions such as: Who am I? How to others see me? How to I want others to see me?
  • Instruct c hildren to create a story using the mask (or the character or story that it represents) and the relationship with themselves.
  • Each child will d ecorate the mask according to theirvisualization. At t his part th ey’re completely free to make their vision into reality. Provide as much materials as possible to encourage creativity.
  • Add the elastic to the mask for wearing and further decorate adding glitter, feathers, ears, horns, beads, etc.

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Issue42_Page_34_Image_3The process wasn’t free from obstacles. The plaster masks allowed one to create an almost perfect mold of the child’s own face; however they are also very delicate, so the constant manipulation while decorating caused some of them to crumble. Besides, making the mold implied putting on a thick layer of Vaseline on their faces, to allow the mask to come off easily. Some of the children resisted to put on the Vaseline, mostly because they felt embarrassed to do so in front of their classmates or because they didn’t like the feeling of the Vaseline. Further into the creative process, the children who worked faster and were further ahead felt bored because they had to wait for the others to catch up. However, the children themselves solved this by offering to help others, especially those who had a difficulty with a certain step.

Issue42_Page_34_Image_4To those who want to do a similar workshop, Amanda recommends dedicating at least two hours a week to this type of activity, in order to be able to include a moment to think back on what we have learned at the end of each session. Other recommendations include working in small groups of no more than 10 children, so the process can be further tailored to their individual needs. Also it’s a good idea to assign roles to the children, so those who work faster or have an easier time with the tasks can direct other children in some parts of the process and thus help each other. The whole experience of creating the mask, gave the children the opportunity to talk about themselves without feeling over-exposed or necessarily having to say “I feel” or “I am”, the game allows them to talk more feely about themselves. Another positive aspect of this activity is that the masks may be used in a future activity or game.

Brayan’s story

Brayan is a 6th grader who, during previous sessions of Circle of Love, hadn’t been willing to work on emotional topics such as self-esteem. During the process of making his mask, he participated very well, creating a very strong, hard mask. However, when it came to telling the story behind the mask, he only described it physically and didn’t make a symbolic connection between himself and the mask. Towards the end of the process, when asked about his mask Brayan responded “here it is!”, and threw it on the ground. It seemed like Brayan wasn’t being careful with his mask, however he then said “no, the thing is, that my mask won’t break, I can throw it like that. I made it so it was very strong, it’s like me. I’m very hard, I can get hit and it doesn’t hurt, I fall and it doesn’t hurt”. Brayan had made a symbolic connection between the masks and his own identity, and he himself came to that conclusion.

“My mask is yellow and black and it has a bow that’s white because I like lions because of their color. I made the mask with white plaster and then I sanded it. I painted it with the colors black and yellow and lines. I am Brayan, I am skin-colored and I have black hair and I have ears that are skin-colored and I am blond. I have a heart inside my body, and on the inside I have veins, I have blood, I have bones.“

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