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The Masked Ball: A Pittsburgh Fashion Story, or, wait, there are fashion designers here?

Recently I joined a group of style bloggers for a social event at No. 14 Boutique in Lawrenceville. I had basically invited myself over (I’m not really a “style blogger” but am writing a story about Moop as we speak, so I figured I could squeeze in). About two dozen people were there, which surprised me, because I didn’t think there was much of a fashion scene here. Then again, that’s what some (many) people think about the arts scene too. In any case, what I learned from talking to these stylish ladies (and one gent) is that Pittsburgh is a tough market for both. Touché.

After the event, Tori Mistick, Director of Think Shadyside and one of the event organizers, sent me a press release. It announced an upcoming fundraiser called The Masked Ball: A Pittsburgh Fashion Story.

So what is the story, exactly?

Well, the event is billed as a “designer couture fashion show and cocktail party” at CAVO in the Strip. It supports the Partners For Quality Foundation, which helps adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and children with mental health challenges – something I’ve been long interested in (elsewhere I’ve written about the work of Creative Citizen Studios to bring arts education to talented youth with intellectual disabilities).  Anyway, all this sounds great and it’s a great cause, but I was astonished that no fewer than 15 regional designers will be included. Call me provincial; I haven’t heard of a single one (I’m going to honest here, I still shop in Toronto, even after eight years in the ‘burgh). Why not? Why is there so little crossover between fashion and art here, especially when this is becoming a trend in global contemporary art? Are they as ignorant of us as we are of them?

I was also interested in the fact that several artists are involved in donating masks, which will be auctioned off at the event. Most of the artists were unfamiliar to me too. Tori sent me some pictures.

This creation is by Kristen McIntosh. Tori described as a “traditional Venetian style” mask:

Kristen McIntosh mask

This one was made by jewelry designer Renee Piatt: ReneePiatt

And then there’s this beauty, but Thom Higgs, a sculpture instructor at CAPA:

Thom Higgs, untitled, undated mask

Love the gingham shirt and gold chain look.

And then… this:

MouseBones, untitled mask, 2015.

This. Remarkable, right?

I mean, what even is this? The previous masks are all what one would expect of masks (or something from the wardrobe of an opera), but this last creation is something closer to a shield that covers the entire face. It transforms the face under it from something human into something super-natural. The shape radiates outward much like a halo or a Bwa sun mask. And the mouth, sprouting a braided lock of unnaturally golden hair, seems to be bruised and bloodied. It’s terrifying and glorious. Finally, I love this picture: the model makes a gesture that I read as benediction in Chrisitian iconography, familiar from countless religious works of art (including the famous Christ Pantocrator). But the fingers sprout long copper wisps.

The mask is the work of Masha Vereshchenko, better known as MouseBones. When I asked her whether she conceives of this piece as fashion or art (a dumb question, I know), she replied: “I hope my mask is worn …But it’s not the most comfortable thing to have on for long periods of time, so it would look great as art as well.” Scroll down for an interview with this mysterious creator.

It seems like you’re mostly a photographer / painter. Is sculpture or fiber also a part of your practice?

I’ve been a painter my whole life and as a kid did lots of drawing, sculpture, sewing, making intricate bead bracelets, needle point, and played with every art medium that was available to me. Currently I just do paintings and take photos. Photography was a new form of expression for me that I accidentally fell into a couple of years ago and quickly fell in love. I haven’t done sculpture in probably 10 years and when I saw this opportunity, I thought this would be a fun challenge. My mask is made entirely out of recycled paper from my job, and then painted and sealed with a varnish. And the hair is some ugly curly tracks that a Drag Queen Sharon Needles didn’t want anymore, so I took them in case they come in handy one day.

Are you from Pittsburgh originally?

I was born in Russia and moved at the age of 12 with my mom to Detroit, Michigan. I moved to Pittsburgh when I was 19 to go to the Art Institute and ended up dropping out. Then just stayed here ever since.

Where did the inspiration for the design come from?

The inspirations for my art and photos come from the Drag Queen and New York Cities’ club kid culture. I do my own club kid looks that can be seen at www.mashamousebones.com under self portraits. That is how I usually show up to drag shows when I have time to get ready.

Why get involved with the Masked Ball event?

As a starving artist, I don’t have much to give in the form of money donations, but I am rich in ideas and want to contribute to charities like The Masked Ball whenever I have the time to.

Do you imagine your mask will be worn, or is it more an haute couture work of art?

Thank you for calling it haute couture, that is the biggest compliment it could get! I hope my mask is worn, I would love to see it on the runway. But it’s not the most comfortable thing to have on for long periods of time, so it would look great as art as well.

Masha told me she’ll be unable to attend the event, but you can find more of her work at at Mendelson Gallery, Shadyside. Check out her website; giclee prints and some original pieces are for sale at her Etsy store. Tickets for the Masked Ball available at EventBrite.

Alexandra Oliver completed her PhD in art history at the University of Pittsburgh. Follow her on Twitter @aolivex or on Instagram.

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