Fashion & Beauty

Masks With An Artful Purpose

WE FIRST wrote about face masks at the beginning of April when the CDC had just recommended “wearing a nonmedical cloth face covering as a voluntary health measure.” It’s hard to believe, but three months later, a mask (or three) is a must-buy purchase. But just because it’s a necessity doesn’t mean it has to be ho-hum. It might even be an artwork, like those designed by Ai Weiwei. In a collaboration with eBay, the artist and activist is selling limited-edition protective masks created in his Berlin studio. The cloth masks in the sale feature silk-screened images designed by Ai, including a defiant middle finger (related to his campaign for free speech), sunflower seeds and mythological Chinese figures. All proceeds from the sales go to Human Rights Watch, Refugees International and Doctors Without Borders. Michele Pred, another artist and activist, originally designed the Art of Equal Pay face mask as part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness of the gender pay gap. Post-Covid 19 outbreak, a signed, numbered edition of 200 “Art of Equal Pay” masks, are for sale, with 10 percent of the proceeds going toward relief efforts. 

If not art itself, the nine different coronavirus masks the Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) online store is selling are images of works of art—five of which are in the museum’s collection. Each fine-art mask costs $24.95, most of which goes to support the museum. If you want to order one, though, you have to wait until early July, according to an e-mail MyLittleBird received from the museum. (Their initial run of several hundred sold out in an hour.)

When Cambridge, England’s Fitzwilliam Museum temporarily closed in March 2020, the 200-year-old institution imagined how some of the subjects in its paintings would protect themselves during lockdown.  Its “Masterpieces 2020” edition features five well-known portraits with added masks that are being sold as greeting cards to support the museum during lockdown. Clever, no? Also, across the pond, British contemporary fashion label Colville has invited leading fine contemporary artists and fashion illustrators to customize a mask to raise funds for a children’s charity.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, art from each of the Baton Rouge Gallery’s 65 members is featured on masks intended to help slow the spread of Covid-19 as well as support local art. The masks cost $25, a percentage of which goes directly to the artist whose work is on the mask. And, in San Francisco, Open Editions, which makes wholesale artist goods for museum shops across the country, began making masks for friends with leftover fabric. When the founders realized there was a growing demand, they scaled up production, enlisting five artists to create prints and sending the fabric to its out-of-work sewers for construction. Open Editions is donating one mask to a nonprofit for each one sold.

It’s looking like it’s going to be a long, hot (in many ways) summer. Why not put on an artsy face?

—Janet Kelly

ABOVE: Artist Ai Weiwei’s “Shanhaijing” Series (set of four masks) is $300 on eBay’s giving platform, eBay for Charity. Sales will continue through June 27.



LEFT: A black-and-white mask version of The Scream by Edvard Munch. CENTER: A face mask inspired by Piet Mondrian’s Composition. RIGHT: This face mask features a detail from Claude Monet’s Rounded Flower Bed (Corbeille de Fleurs), which is in the Detroit Institute of Arts collectionAll hand sewn, the masks ($24.95) are 100% cotton with reinforced stitching, machine washable and come with a bendable metal nose bridge and pocket for an insertable filter. Unfortunately, they are not available to order until early July at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum Shop.



ABOVE: A greeting card that takes inspiration from Titian’s Renaissance masterpiece, “Venus and Cupid With a Lute Player,” and updates it for 2020. Fitzwilliam Museum Shop, Cambridge, England.



ABOVE: A Baton Rouge Gallery face mask with artwork by Katrina Andry. Andry, who lives and works in New Orleans, explores how negative stereotypes affect the lives of black people and how these stereotypes lead to biased laws and ideologies in our society.



ABOVE: “The Eye Opener” by Cecilia Carlstedt is one of the face masks that will be auctioned off (bids starting at £100) until noon (EDT) on June 21 at Fashion Illustration Gallery.


ABOVE: An “Art of Equal Pay” mask by Michele Pred costs $32. She has said she thinks of her masks as a functional medical supply. 


ABOVE: A set of two 100% cotton, double-layer face coverings, designed by Stephanie Syjuco, is $28 at Open-Editions. Syjuco, who works in photography and sculpture, is a 2019/2020 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow at the National Museum of American History in Washington DC.


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One thought on “Masks With An Artful Purpose

  1. Carol says:

    WOW. Too cool for school. I want one!! Decisions as to which one to order.
    I’m tired of my homemade ones with bandannas and ponytail elastics.

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