Laurie Margot Ross is an author, consultant, curator, and the director of Glocal Matters. A leading expert on masks, emotions, and religion, her work is informed by over three decades of transregional research, emphasizing Indonesia and the Indian Ocean World. 

Photo by Tom DeLooza

biography

Dr. Ross’s fascination with masks began as a child. In her home, the art of George Grosz, Max Beckmann, and Romare Bearden were displayed side by side with masks from New Guinea and Nigeria. Laurie played with these masks when her parents were away. She took a systematic approach. She held each one over her face as she struck different poses until she found one that resonated with the personality of the mask. She then danced in character with complete abandon. Even as a child, Laurie recognized her lack of inhibition behind the mask: it was as palpable as her self-consciousness without one. Decades later, her students reported similar dissociation. Its ubiquity led Laurie to study how inhibition and its lack work from the inside out, and under which conditions emotions are absorbed and shared between mask wearers and those observing them.

The freedom Laurie experienced behind the mask led her to study an Islamic dance tradition in coastal West Java, Indonesia. There, she trained with the tasawwuf (Sufi) mask dance master Dasih binti Wentar (d.1985). She, along with other Indonesian practitioners, reinforced Laurie's psychosomatic experience. In recent years, her emotions research has broadened to include other devotional and protective objects—especially those worn close to the heart—to forge a more intimate connection to the Divine. 

Dr. Ross's other areas of interest are tribal and 20th century art. She has curated exhibits on prints, drawings, and performing objects, and was the proprietor of Metropolis Art Books—a rare and scholarly book business dedicated to the visual arts.  She has worked with curators, museums, and university librarians in collection and library development in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and Indonesia.

Laurie earned her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Encoded Cirebon Mask: Materiality, Flow, and Meaning along Java's Islamic Northwest Coast (Brill, 2016). 

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