George Stylianou

House of European History

It’s winter time and it’s snowing at the Flachau ski resort, about 70km south of Salzburg in Austria. A video documenting the snowfall starts with a close up of what appears to be a gloved hand giving a thumb up. The wide shot that follows reveals that the glove is actually on a skier’s foot. Only the legs stick out of the snow while the cable cars above continue their normal service transporting skiers to the hilltop. The other foot, incidentally, still has a ski on. Of course, the skier is not a real human being and the video, titled I’m OK, is a project by Greek artist Anna Vasof.

Humour and the desire to joke about daily life runs through Vasof’s work. The humorous disposition is what led her to create, back in early 2020, her Hand Mask. The lockdown in Vienna, where she now lives, started on March 13. She made the mask one week later. During that period, she recalls, there was a shortage of medical masks. “There were instructions left and right on how to make a cloth mask,” she says. “I thought, as a joke, to create my own mask with the materials I had at home. Because I’m an artist I had plaster and various other materials.”

She casted her own hand and nailed elastic bands to the hardened plaster. The Hand Mask, Vasof insists, can be worn and she took and uploaded photos on social media to prove the point. When asked whether she’s worn it outside, she smilingly notes that it doesn’t offer protection from the virus. Plus, she points out, at the time nobody could move around freely.

It was on social media that Simina Bădică, curator at the House of European History in Brussels, spotted photos of the Hand Mask and contacted Vasof. Bădică acquired the mask, which now sits in the Europe Now section of the museum’s 6th floor in Brussels.

But there is also a serious aspect to this work of art. Its creator points out that during the lockdown, there was an outburst of domestic violence. She recalls hearing shouting and screaming coming out of neighbouring flats. Because the virus affects the respiratory system and people catching it often have shortness of breath, Vasof wanted her artwork “to portray the social asphyxia existing at the time. It was a good metaphor I thought.”

The artist, from the Mount Parnassus area in central Greece, is quick to dismiss suggestions that the Hand Mask criticises the decisions made to try to deal with the pandemic. On the contrary, she notes, “I’m one of the few people still wearing a mask in Vienna. People wanted to have access to masks and it was a pressurised situation. The Hand Mask is a symbol of that era.”

Unlike Vasof’s skier, Europe is indeed starting to do… OK on the pandemic front, even though the February invasion of Ukraine by Russia has thrown the continent head first back into a chilling chaos.   

Image Credit:

House of European History, Brussels, Belgium © Anna Vasof, 2020

Object information:

Title:Hand Mask
Artist:Anna Vasof
Owner:House of European History, Brussels
Dimensions (HxWxD):cca 7 x 15 x 9 cm
Production placeVienna, Austria
Material:Stone-hard, weatherproof plaster and elastic bands