Artistically Powerful Face Masks Are Objects of Our Time

By CGN Staff


We can't count the number of things that are different about the art world these days, since COVID-19 turned everything in our community upside down. One of many recent creative responses has been to meet the ongoing need for protective, reusable face masks in an artistic as well as impactful way. Jeffrey Gibson, an artist represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery, and a 2019 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, is the latest artist to participate in the gallery's COVID-19 Mask Project, an effort to sell personal protective works of art and donate 100% of the proceeds to charity.

Gibson is known for melding indigenous North American materials and forms with those of Western contemporary art to create a new hybrid visual vocabulary and prompting a shift in how Native American art is perceived and historicized.

Regarding the need for masks right now, Gibson shared, “We’re living in a time when people should be wearing masks—period. Unforeseen, my tribe, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, has been hit hard by COVID-19. We’re a small tribe based in Central Mississippi. People aren’t able to work or make income. It means a lot to me to be able to raise money to help. The mask itself—whether you’re buying it as an artwork, or buying it to be worn—it’s an object of our time.” Indeed these masks that are so critical now will someday come to represent so much of our day-to-day life in 2020.

Kavi Gupta COVID-19 Mask Project x Devan Shimoyama. Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta

A gallery representative shared, "We started this project to not only raise money for overlooked communities in need, but to also amplify the message that masks are vitally important and that wearing one is a civic duty– we must protect each other."

The masks provide a barrier to the wearer and those in proximity, but also 100% of proceeds from mask sales will be donated, split between the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to aid with COVID-19 critical care response, and to NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power through organizing, activism, philanthropy, grantmaking, capacity-building and narrative change.

Gibson explains his process: “When I first started to think about making masks, my first thought was to work with the materials we already have in the studio. I’ve been making these quilts and all of the fabrics have different texts. They say things like DEFEND, WE’RE DIFFERENT, LOVE, and POWERFUL. The mask design goes from ear to ear, so the words sit right under the eyes. The words vary from mask to mask.

The masks are made from three panels of fabric, and have two colored cords that slip over the head and can be adjusted using wood sliding beads to tighten the mask or loosen it. There’s a little pointed area over your mouth and nostrils, beak like, so its not right up against your mouth. There is also a space inside for an insert. They’re all 100% cotton. I wanted something people could wash: hand wash, because of the beads.”

Masks are now available for preorder. Previous editions have sold out quickly. Completing the preorder reserves a Jeffrey Gibson mask, made by the artist in a limited edition of 100. Masks will ship in 2-3 weeks. 

The first phase of the project featured artist Devan Shimoyama, more info here. The next chapter of the Mask Project will launch in September and will feature another artist from the gallery's program. 

For questions contact the gallery at covidsupport@kavigupta.com

Jeffrey Gibson photo credits: Kavi Gupta COVID-19 Mask Project x Jeffrey Gibson. Courtesy of Jeffrey Gibson Studio and Kavi Gupta. Photo: Brian Barlow