University of Toronto
Of Mice and Masks: Photography as Masking in Art Spiegelman’s Maus
This paper examines the relationship between masks and photographs in Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale and the ways this relationship affects the status of the graphic novel in Israel. I argue that Maus invites a reading in which photographs can be seen as masks that on the one hand give face to past events while on the other, conceal and fragment the larger picture via the photographic frame.
Although much critical attention has been paid to the representation of masks and photographs in Maus, neither of the critics have read the two visual markers in light of each other, a reading which contributes to a better understanding of the Holocaust master narrative that in turn, explains the poor reception of Maus in Israel. I argue that Israel’s unwelcoming attitude towards Maus stems from the photographs integrated in Spiegelman’s account; photographs that clash with the canonical set of photographs that we have come to recognize as Holocaust photography. Finally, I call for the integration of Maus in the Israeli high school curriculum as I believe that Spiegelman’s evocation of photographs through the lens of the mask raises questions about visual presentation of factual information and about the acceptance of photography as a documentary device.
LIZA FUTERMAN is a doctoral student at the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. She has previously obtained a master’s degree in History of Art & Visual Culture from Oxford University, and a bachelor’s degree from the Ben-Gurion University in Israel. Her primary research interests are in the representation of memory and memory loss in photographs and auto(bio)graphics. For the past year Futerman has been leading a research group on Memory(loss) on behalf of the Centre for Memory and Testimony Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.