Mask Mania 2020: When Egyptian visual artists use masks as canvas

Nevine Lamei, Tuesday 19 May 2020

ARAC for Arts and Culture invited artists to transform facemasks into art pieces

Mask Mania

Humor, hope, resistance, enthusiasm... This is what emerges from the Mask Mania 2020, a creative initiative launched recently by the cultural association ARAC for Art and Culture.

The initiative invites artists to reinvent the masks that we find ourselves obliged to wear in order to protect ourselves from the pandemic.

The masks that were transformed by the artists are displayed on ARAC's Facebook page.

The project's creator and founder of ARAC Ashraf Reda created a work which he titled The Alphabet of History. He covered the mask with vibrant colours of the rainbow, reflecting the diversity that characterises humanity, adding old Egyptian motifs (pharaonic, Islamic, Coptic, etc.) to the design. He also invented a new Arabic alphabet, painting miniature letters based on elements from Egyptian heritage: pyramids, minarets, fish, and waves stand out on the surface of the mask.

In addition, three female artists – Shery Elbeyaa, Hanaa Amin and Randa Fouad – opted for joyful colours to lighten these difficult times.

Mask Mania

Fatma Hassan painted black and white roses on her mask titled Samra (brunette). She comments on her work by saying, "I opted for black and white because it goes hand in hand with the crisis. The shades of grey give the work a cloudy effect; we are in the dark as it is today. However, I never lose hope of getting to the end of this epidemic."

She adds that as she worked on the mask with a very fine brush, she had to deal with the cramped surface which limited her.

Hosni Abou Bakr defies the narrow surface, but also the folds forming the mask. On the mask, he draws his mouth, his moustache and his beard. When he wears it, you cannot really see the difference between the mask and his facial features, hence a natural effect which allows the artist not to feel disguised or hooded.

“The world lives in the phobia of masks. Mine breaks with this idea; you don't need to worry or comply completely with the constraints of isolation. My mask does not only seek to protect me, but also to free me from constraints, and to entertain me,” Abou Bakr underlines.

Mask Mania

A beautiful smile

"Don't let the mask hide your smile," says painter and stylist Niha Hetta, who drew a broad smile on her mask, showing all of her teeth. Her lips are highlighted in red acrylic. "Smiling is one of the most effective ways to increase positive vibes around us and overcome hardship," she says.

Cartoonist Yasser Gaessa is inspired by van Gogh, doomed to unhappiness and loneliness. He uses his mask as canvas for wheat fields and flowering orchards, believing that this is a way to generate positive energy.

Reda Abdel-Rahman went a step further by creating a video installation using the motion design technique and graphic design work.

The protagonist of the video is the artist himself, wearing a different mask for each new image. All of the images are accompanied by mysterious music, expressing unease in the face of confinement. In it we find images of a flower mask, another in the form of a dollar bill or a children's toy, etc. 

Mask Mania

"These are the objects that I have at home, in the United States, the country where I currently reside. Humanity everywhere lives in existential anguish. Neither money nor American nationality can be used. This is the time when man has to think about his life differently," Reda Abdel-Rahman comments on his work.

"The initiative has received quite a bit interest from the artists," Ashraf Reda reveals, adding that "several designers and ready-to-wear store owners contacted me to market the masks shared on the ARAC Facebook page. But I prefer to be patient in order to guarantee intellectual property rights. I believe that in Egypt, like everywhere else in the world, we should expect a massive change in cultural and social fashions after the deconfinement. The mask may become part of our clothing accessories."

And once the pandemic is over, Reda hopes to organise a large exhibition in the gallery of the Cairo Opera House. "It will probably not be until next June. I hope to be able to display all the masks, in the form of a huge mural, and raise the following questions: how has the coronavirus crisis changed the world? Where are we going? And how do you use art to cheer people up?"

Mask Mania

This article was first published in Al Ahram Hebdo's 13 May 2020 issue

For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture

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