Local students tell the story of the pandemic through face mask art


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By connecting them with one of the artists it currently presents, the Tom Thomson Art Gallery has given some local students the opportunity to make their voices heard through their unique works of art.


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The art gallery recently launched its Emerging Artists Unmasked initiative, which features over 20 creations by art students from John Diefenbaker High School Hanover, guided and inspired by contemporary artist Don Kwan, including his own works. face mask are an important part of the art. the current exhibition at the Facing It gallery.

Tom Thomson Art Gallery’s Public Projects and Education Curator Heather McLeese said on Friday the gallery is very keen to reconnect an artist with young people, which has been difficult during the pandemic. And it turned out that Kwan, whose personal experiences and challenges shine through in his work, turned out to be the perfect teacher.

“He is a wonderful speaker, an amazing teacher and an amazing visual artist, so just connecting him to these students who are young aspiring artists was really quite a special experience and certainly an inspiration for them.” , McLeese said.

In the Facing It exhibition, currently on display at the gallery, Kwan uses a combination of Chinese take-out menus, cash, silkscreen and inkjet prints, thread, glue and thread in a series of masks that address its own emotional response to the pandemic.

A third generation Chinese Canadian, Kwan said his work was sparked by the pandemic as he faced isolation, loss and racism towards the Asian community that was amplified during the lockdown .

Kwan said that working on the Facing it exhibit and doing the workshop with the students “reminded me of the power of art and how art continues to connect communities.”


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Artist Don Kwan with some of the works created by art students at John Diefenbaker High School.
Artist Don Kwan with some of the works created by art students at John Diefenbaker High School. Photo provided

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, the connection between Kwan and the students was still made virtually. Kwan did a full artist talk and did an origami workshop with the students, going through the process of making a paper face mask, McLeese said.

Students were then asked to create their own face masks, using a variety of media and materials, to tell their own personal stories of how the pandemic affected them and what they got out of it.

The results were varied and full of images and messages. Some used newspaper headlines describing the headlines of the pandemic, while chains and threads were prominent over others, illustrating this feeling of being locked in and unable to express their feelings. One mask depicts images of trees and grass from a local park, a place of escape when pandemic lockdowns hit.

“Face masks are now a safety requirement, but they have become that way of expressing yourself,” McLeese said. “It was a fun project, there was a lot of sharing and a lot of the students really told a story through the masks they created.”

JDSS arts student Zanne Stassen created a mask that she says is about the stagnation of time and continuity as the world felt out of place during the pandemic. She covered her mask with buttons, which she arranged in a broken timeline “to show how disturbed the linear process of time feels; the buttons are wrapped in ideas that reflect this.

“I noticed that before COVID, a lot of our time was segmented into 14-day periods, such as the library book loan period or pay periods,” Stassen said. “I saw that this concept remained the same, but the context changed to suit the times.”


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A mask created by Zanne Stassen.
A mask created by Zanne Stassen. Photo provided

Stassen said she included personal family photos from decades past and a more recent photo of her cousin with her grandfather “to show that the passage of time has little effect on the dynamics of human nature; the children are still laughing and the people are continuing.

JDSS visual arts teacher Anne McLaughlin said the students took on the task of using face masks as the basis of their major art project, which examined their reactions and feelings about the pandemic up close. two years.

“I am very proud of my students because they went well beyond the parameters of the project,” she said. “The works of art produced are both visually stunning and visually provocative. The students want to challenge viewers to look closely for meanings that are hidden or not obvious in their works.

McLeese said she hopes people will talk about the work and their own experiences during the pandemic.

Kwan’s Workshop is available on the Art Gallery’s digital portal at https://tomthomsonartgallery.wixsite.com/digitalportal

And the student masks take place in tandem with the Facing It exhibit and can be viewed in the gallery lobby until the end of January.



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