Maskbook, a unique means of self-expression during the pandemic

Last December, a new zoonosis called COVID-19 suddenly appeared and shook the world like no other pathogen in living memory. Throughout human history there have been pandemic outbreaks linked to the environment causing grave health problems, but there hasn’t been an infectious disease moving so quickly on such a cataclysmic international scale for more than a century. This on top of the double whammy of air pollution and global warming!

In view of this crisis, the co-initiators of Maskbook, Chinese contemporary artist Wen Fang and Art of Change 21, decided to act immediately. In February, in response to the new threat of COVID-19, a new chapter of Maskbook opened in China. A call for participation with the virus as theme was launched in collaboration with Fang and her collective Windowfish Artist! For inspiration, we suggested that participants answered questions of an existential nature: what does this pandemic reveal to us? What post-pandemic world would you like to see?

In April, when France and many other countries were in full lockdown, we extended this new project phase to the rest of the world. We used to organize collective workshops, now we have put the impetus with the  digital user and asked for their individual and spontaneous artistic contributions. Everyone could then participate from home with their computer or smartphone. Hundreds of participants from China, India, Brazil, France, Japan, Morocco, etc., sent us their creations; self-portraits that reflected a generation seized by a pandemic, becoming aware of its link with the environment and imagining a different afterworld.

On their own initiative, in lockdown or in a post-confinement situation, participants posted their portraits to the Maskbook.org online gallery, mostly handcrafted from recycled materials and sometimes created digitally. Participants were encouraged to give the mask an appropriate title with an added message, expressing the will of an entire generation to commit to a more sustainable future.

A worldwide success

All generations - and younger people in particular - have, via the means of artistic expression, seized upon the current health crisis to reflect upon its impact on society and the environment.

Maskbook COVID-19 has received the support of celebrities, influencers, artists and activists around the world. In France, Christophe André, country's favorite psychiatrist, and Juliette Binoche, a key figure in the seventh art and environmental activism, both agreed to wear digital creations, sending out messages that are close to their hearts. Across the Atlantic, it was Los Angeles-based Canadian actress Laura Regan who, through her creation, brought attention to the fires that have devastated California, Australia, Brazil…Also in the United States, the young Maya Penn, entrepreneur, philanthropist and artist at just 20 years old, sent us her masked portrait denouncing the ongoing extinction of pollinators, which are essential to ecosystems. Tamara Haddad, a talented Lebanese artist, reminded us of the essential role that forests play in our survival. The Indian artist Harsha Vardhan Durugadda wanted to address some crucial aspects of the anthropogenic errors of the 21st century: the massive destruction of the environment by unsustainable methods and the egocentricity of the human species.

These strong messages, exacerbated by the pandemic, are there to remind us that an "afterworld" is possible and that it’s up to everyone to make a contribution.

Participants take the floor

In addition to the masked portraits posted to the online gallery at Maskbook.org, we have launched a series of videos: “Participants take the floor”. The participants explain their approach to their masks as part of a special COVID-19 Maskbook campaign. These videos (in French and English) were relayed via our various social networks. Check them out here and here!

The campaign goes on: Get involved!

While the pandemic is far from over and France has just entered a new phase of lockdown, Maskbook’s momentum continues online. Everyone is invited to have their say on the pandemic, and, more generally, on the link between our health and the environment, in order to defend our planet, our future and our health.

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