Made in Mexico


Blanca Cárdenas

National School of Anthropology and History – Mexico

We have all faced difficult times recently, but we have all put our creativity and resilience to the test too. This is the case of many Mexican artisans that, despite the technological inequalities and the Wi-Fi signal failures in many communities, created a new logic for promoting their work, and to keep creating and selling their handicrafts. Facebook was the place where we established contact with many of those artisans around the country with the intention to ask them to design a mask than embodied the face of the virus SARS-CoV-2, responsible of the COVID-19 sickness.

Carlos Dávila and I, both ethnologists and professors, coordinate the project entitled “Putting a face on the virus”. On April 2020 we contacted the artisans with the request of designing a handicraft that answered a simple question: How do you see the virus? The results were amazing considering that, what really interested us was to register the creative process and to understand the meanings and symbolic codes involved in each mask. For instance, one of the artisans took many months to finish the mask because he was having trouble dreaming about her. He usually dreams with the masks he creates, but in this case, the task was taking too long.

At the end of 2020, our collaborative project had reached a new level, now with an ethnographic collection related to the virus. We classified each mask and created a digital archive with photographs and information, but we also started a long process of ethnological research. What is a mask? These objects are expressions of cultural diversity that trigger, during carnivals or specific rituals, laughter, fear, anger or solemnity. Masks are also artifacts that embody different meanings according with their cultural context and evoke places and times that maybe won´t fit with our empirical perception, but that embody human and non human beings that exist around us (Neurath & Questa, 2018).

According to the latter, we saw how the 12 masks describe the tension between tradition and modern, as well as the relation between indigenous cosmologies and political realities, ecological concerns, and international catastrophes. The “Covid Pig”, for starting, shows the connections of the virus with the consumption of pork, an animal considered responsible of many foreign diseases. The same happens with the “Mestizo Man” and “The Mask of Power” that embody the virus as a white man.

On the other hand, the “Devil of Teloloapan”, the “Green Devil” and the “Afro Covid” are masks manufactured by afro mestizo artisans that introduce the virus as a demonic figure. These masks have horsehair, goat horns or a skull, and a pattern that shows the COVID-19 cells sprouting from the devils face. Finally, we have masks that give the virus a face of an animal: jaguar, tiger or bull; a skull or an ancient virus known as “Cocoliztli”, responsible of many sicknesses that arrived in Mexican territory from the hands of the Spanish conquerors in the 16th and 17th centuries.

This project is still in an initial stage. Masks have shown the importance of thinking in an anthropological fashion and to understand the many ways of living with the virus. It has been quite a journey to see how in some communities people say that the virus will only attack the white urban people, or the way in which traditional rituals have changed, planting COVID seeds or performing COVID dances and songs.  In August 2021 we will open an academic seminar about art and COVID-19 with our colleagues and students from the National School of Anthropology and History. We want also to present an exhibition in a local museum on 2022, and to take back the masks to their places of provenance, because carnivals and rituals will start again and these masks need to be danced and to take their agency from their communities.


Neurath, Johannes & Questa, Alessandro; 2018. “Rostros de otros mundos”, Artes de México. 128:9-19.

Made with Early Modern Portraits

Volker Hermes

Hidden Liotard IV, Photocollage 2020

My Hidden Portraits are interventions in historical portraits through image processing. In the process, I reshape individual areas of the painting, obscuring the facial features of the sitter. The result is a shift in focus away from individuality and towards codes or details that are otherwise visible in the painting. Portrait commissions were reserved for a wealthy elite, like Joachim Rendorp here, a rich citizen and mayor of Amsterdam. Liotard’s pastel shows him in a strikingly coloured Justaucorps, which black satin collar is an important contrasting element. It is precisely details like these that I give new meaning to by reshaping them into a mask that, centrally located in the picture, draws attention to the magnificent materiality of the portrait.

Van der Helst III, Photocollage 2020

Certainly the most striking detail of this portrait are the numerous small ribbons, which were probably absolutely in vogue and here adorn the sitter’s dress in excessive numbers. Contrasted with opulent jewellery and lace, this creates a fashionable portrait of the Dutch golden age. Certainly, anyone would usually be captivated by the sitter’s youthfulness at first, while all the details of the dress only add up to an overall picture. I have given the bows and jewellery a new, more important role and played with the details of this painting with a touch of coquetry.

Volker Hermes *1972

1992 – 1995    Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Philosophy
1995 – 2002    Academy of art Düsseldorf, Painting in the class of Dieter Krieg
2000                Meisterschüler of Dieter Krieg

Image credits

Hidden Liotard IV (after Portrait of Joachim Rendorp by Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1757, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam), Photocollage by Volker Hermes, 2020

Hidden Van der Helst III, based on a Portrait of Adriana Jacobusdr Hinlopen by Lodewijk van der Helst, 1667, The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Photocollage Volker Hermes, 2020

Clothing the Pandemic

This blog aims to follow the research related to the ICOM Solidarity Project 2021: “Clothing the Pandemic: Resiliency, Community & Unity Expressed Through an International Collaboration of the Covid-19 Facemask Project”, conducted by ICOM Costume. This research and digital exhibition project aims to document and contextualize the use of facemasks during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020-21. Facemasks have become the iconic object and symbol of the pandemic representing humanity’s resilience, community and unity during this global tragedy. The project will connect international museums and curators working on this topic, and connect their collections virtually to a global public. The stories of COVID-19 will be recorded in all the world’s history books. In a similar way, this project intends to preserve and explore the iconic object of this challenging pandemic since its very beginnings: the facemask. These facemasks are implicated in a wide range of facets of society, from health, fashion, art and crafts, to history, identity, and sustainability. It is important for museums and the public to have a broader understanding of textile and dress collecting relating to the pandemic. Parallel to health scientists, museum curators have been researching and working throughout the pandemic to study, understand and document the social dimensions of the pandemic. Around the world, many museums since April 2020 have begun to collect facemasks and other dress items chronicling this period of time and exploring their meanings for the people who make and wear them. The ICOM Costume Committee is spearheading this initiative and seeks to highlight and bring together the international efforts to document this moment in time through a joint virtual repository as a virtual exhibition and an international conference. This project is granted by the ‘Solidarity CFP’ launched by ICOM for 2021. Along with ICOM Costume, ICOM CC, ICME and ICOM Canada will be working on the project. By bringing together ICOM international and national committees this project aims to create a virtual exhibition of all aspects of the art, practice and culture of facemasks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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