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The man behind the masks

Jamal Thorne
Jamal Thorne speaks at the opening of his first solo show, "Frontin(g)."

According to Jamal Thorne, everyone is wearing a mask — and probably more than one.

That’s the premise of Thorne’s inaugural solo art show, “Frontin(g),” on display through June 3 at Northeastern’s Gallery 360. The large charcoal drawings on display are the final works created by Thorne, the first recipient of a master of fine arts degree from the Art + Design department in the College of Arts, Media and Design, a 3-year-old program operated in partnership with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

“It’s this idea of acting or ‘performed identity’: the difference between you when you’re in class or presenting something at a formal event and how you are when you go out later on that evening with your friends and family,” Thorne said. “Your speech patterns change, your behavior patterns change — you wear a different mask.”

Thorne’s work, which layers images of faces made up in different styles or based on different public figures or archetypes, seeks to ask which identity — which mask — is most authentic to an individual. His work is based in part on research by gender researcher and queer theorist Judith Butler, whose ideas of identity connect to popular culture, new media and cultural symbiosis.

"Car Dashin" by Jamal Thorne.

Thorne, who grew up a graffiti artist in the Washington, D.C., area and studied drawing and photography at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said the cooperative program offered by Northeastern and the SMFA provided him the opportunity to take advanced classroom courses at one campus while creating art under the guidance of top-notch faculty artists at the other. With this unique approach, his work in the classroom informed his art, and vice versa.

“It’s a very valuable program because we are two different institutions that complement each other,” said Xavier Costa, dean of Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media and Design. “They provide the opportunity to delve into studio art and fine art while we are focused more on integrating new media and technology.”

Costa said Thorne’s exhibition showed off the best of both institutions, displaying high technical aptitude in work based on thorough personal and academic research.

“Though the use of drawing, he is able to explore and discuss identity in a very complex way,” Costa said.

Thorne received his MFA on Friday afternoon at the graduate commencement ceremony at Matthews Arena.

Gallery 360, open year-round, displays collections and unique works by Northeastern students, faculty and staff, as well as noted artists from around the globe.