A MASK TO PROTECT AND REFLECT CULTURE
National Museums of Scotland
In 2020 National Museums Scotland acquired three covid-19 face masks by Tlingit Athabascan artist Crystal Worl. One of these masks (V.2020.9) is currently featured in the online exhibition ‘Clothing the Pandemic’.
In an Instagram post on May 8th 2020 Crystal Worl wrote: ‘Indigenous people around the globe have been mask makers for centuries. Masks in Alaska were and still are created as a means to transfer cultural values and knowledge from one generation to the next. As a result of today’s pandemic, it is inevitable that Indigenous artists have united in the creation of Indigenized masks. Now is the time to protect our people. Wear a mask!’.
In response to the pandemic Alaskan based Tlingit Athabascan artist Crystal Worl decided to explore the production of face masks that celebrated Indigenous North American culture and reflected a long tradition of mask making. Crystal harvested the sockeye salmon used for this mask with her family and then tanned the skin herself. While the skin was used for this mask, the fish meat provided a meal for her family ensuring that nothing was wasted. The mask evokes the interconnection between Indigenous peoples in Alaska and nature which feeds, clothes and protects.
The masks were part of a wider campaign in which Crystal also designed posters to be displayed depicting Tlingit and Athabascan motifs as a tool to battle the global pandemic. Crystal described her motivation behind creating the masks and the posters under the theme ‘Stay At Home, Save Our People’, writing ‘since time immemorial the Tlingit people of Alaska have practiced isolation and staying inside as a means to build strength, endurance, and a way to focus on calmness and creativity. Today it is crucial that the world turns to traditional practices of taking care of our elders and cultural barriers by protecting them, keeping at a safe distance, washing our hands, and staying home’ (May 16th 2020 @crystalworl). The digital posters were created to promote these messages and were selected for display in London as part of W1Curates. The posters demonstrate both the digital interconnectedness fostered by the pandemic, as well as the initiative of indigenous artists in response to limited public health communication aimed at indigenous and minority communities.