European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal Exhibitions

Clothing the Pandemic: A Virtual Exhibition of Covid-19 Face Masks from Around the World

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A rapid response by ICOM Costume, documenting the material culture of our times

Since the start of Covid-19 Pandemic, many museums and institutions have turned to virtual exhibitions as ways to respond to the changes in the world, and to the changing in how we experience the world and live in it. The efforts put in translating material culture – and the research and projects related to it – into the digital realm showed how important it is to document its evolution online, proving how different identities and people can be united by objects, and how the stories related to objects are important because they represent who we are and how we are connected to each other.

The item that has surely be at the centre of attention in the last few years, and will probably become the symbol of these times is the face-covering. Now that we seem to be moving away from its use, we cannot deny the importance face coverings of all materials and styles have had during the Pandemic: they became symbols of hope, they were turned into political statements, they were appropriated by artists, designers and wearers who personalised them to make them their own. As a rapid response to the omnipresence of these items, in December 2021 The International Committee ICOM for the Museums and Collections of Costume, Fashion and Textiles opened a virtual exhibition called Clothing the Pandemic: A Virtual Exhibition of Covid-19 Face Masks from Around the World. The exhibition stems out of extensive and proactive research led by project leader Corinne Thepaut Cabasset and is a collaboration among numerous museum curators from Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and Oceania, who have collected face masks for their institutions to document the material culture of the pandemic from 2020–2021.
“These facemasks are implicated in a wide range of facets of society, from health, fashion, and art, to politics, 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.
Corinne Thepaut Cabasset, project leader

The exhibition features over 100 masks, divided into six themes: Art & Intervention; Politics & Protest; Solidarity & Communities; Body & Spirit; Innovation & Sustainability; and Fashion & Pop Culture. The exhibition is open until December 2022 and can be visited here. A true journey around the world, showcasing the variety of approaches and visions crafting symbols we had to, and chose to wear, and probably will never forget.