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Read About These Masks in Art History, So You Don’t Feel Alone Wearing One
Take a look at the mask in art history
Arty-Pedia 04 Apr 2020

The art world is having a hard time right now. Our once overly sociable lives look uncertain and restricted for months to come. Where we were once hopping from art fair to opening to biennial, we’re now working from home, viewing exhibitions online, and wondering when we’ll finally be able to take an art trip with our art squad again. We’re becoming germaphobes too, washing our hands every five minutes and keeping inside as much as we can. Some of us are wearing masks, a new accessory we’re not quite sure how to style correctly. But fear not, some of our favourite artists have a few ideas…

Claude Cahun

Just see how strong this look is! Gender neutral artist Claude Cahun is famous for their self-portraits, often incorporating masks. Born in 1894, they plugged the idea of gender fluidity in a time where it was radical to do so, and they inspired many other artists too, including…

Gillian Wearing

Here Gillian Wearing has photographed herself impersonating Claude Cahun. Through masquerade and performance, she explores identity and gender. Wearing also sees the mask as an object of protection too, much like the masks we see people wearing during the coronavirus epidemic. Wearing uses the mask as an object that empowers the wearer, while also allowing them to make their identities anonymous.

Zeng Fanzhi

Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi is famous for his mask series. Here the figures are screaming, and I think we can all relate to that feeling…Zeng’s masks show a sense of solitude, with the mask acting as a kind of barrier, hiding a real emotion that lies underneath. His wearers’ masks seem to blend into their skin, suggesting that we are all always wearing a mask, hiding our true selves beneath them.


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Miir #damselfrau

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Damselfrau shows us how to wear a mask, and make it fashion! The Norweigan artist began making masks to wear at parties when she moved to London in 2007, but after discovering she had a knack for it, she became a mask maker in 2009. And she’s pretty good too, having made masks for Beyonce and collaborated with Louis Vuitton.

Richard Prince

Here Richard Prince quite literally makes art out of the medical masks that provide us with a sense of comfort during difficult times. His iconic nurse paintings were inspired by book covers, which are then transferred onto canvas, with the nurses on them given surgical masks. Succeeding in making medicine look sexy, Richard Prince’s work gets bonus points for securing an endorsement from Kate Moss! 

Guerilla Girls

How could we NOT include the Guerilla Girls? The anonymous feminist group of female artists has been devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world since 1985, all the while wearing these gorilla masks to conceal their identity. With all of their radical interventions, they have been inspiring activists to use masks for the benefit of art for decades.

Rebecca Horn


One for the creative art girl. Rebecca Horn’s “pencil mask” from 1972 inspires us to make art with our face, while also warning others to stay away from us if they don’t want to be hit by a pencil!

Aldo Lanzini

Aldo Lanzini creates performative masks using a variety of fabrics. He calls his creations “illegal aliens”, with inspiration coming from time spent on the New York alternative club scene in the 1990s. His colourful works draw from set and costume design, needlework, drawing, poetry and crochet. 

Don Proch

Proch’s masks incorporate found and natural materials, inspired by the farmland where he grew up in Western Canada. His work combines technology with natural objects.  

Brian Jungen

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The run of Brian Jungen Friendship Centre has been an incredible one, and we've seen how much you all connected with his smart, witty, accessible, and complex works. Today is your absolute last chance to see it, as the doors close this afternoon and it's goodbye to whale skeletons made of lawn chairs, masks made of shoes, towers made of golf bags and all the other marvelous works in the show. We hope that this exhibition allowed you to look at ordinary objects in new ways and to enjoy this glimpse into the mind of one of our country's most important artists. Thanks to all of you who came – if you want to come again, do so before the end of the day! . Brian Jungen Friendship Centre (detail), installation image, Art Gallery of Ontario © Brian Jungen . #brianjungen #jungenAGO #jungen #indigenousartist #sculpture #nikeairjordans #unexpectedobjects #toronto #torontoart #artexhibition #weekendplans #lastchance #dontmissit

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Brian Jungen manipulates consumer products like sneakers, transforming them into new objects. By repurposing sneakers into masks, he comments on the way brands like Nike have become cultural objects, while also likening them to native art, commenting on his First Nations identity.

Text Lizzy Vartanian

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