There is perhaps no symbol more representative of contemporary life than the humble face mask. A simple health device crucial to saving millions of lives around the world from a deadly COVID-19 pandemic spread by invisible airborne pathogens, and yet an object that’s been quixotically politicized at the callous expense of humanity for the gain of an elite few. A new exhibition at the University of Denver’s Vicki Myhren Gallery approaches the lighter side of face coverings: the ancient tradition of masks as self-expression.
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Arranged on mannequins lining the gallery space, over 40 artists present interpretations of protective face wear in MASK, currently on view by appointment through December 1, 2020. The collection of whimsical, grotesque, quirky, and beautiful masks are medically non-functional but guaranteed to provoke a reaction through their novel construction. Several designs mimic natural filtration systems like foliage or a coral reef, while others use repurposed objects like zippers or pipes to create wholly unusual face sculptures.
“Through this project, we hope to call attention to the significance and signification of masking as an issue of public health and demonstration of civic responsibility,” the gallery shares in a statement. “As the selected artists show, masking is also a mode of outward self-expression and opportunity for creativity. In turns utilitarian and fantastical, the wearable artworks shown demonstrate how makers and thinkers are engaging with the pandemic and applying their skills and individual styles to a newly important medium.”