Crochet 'Virus v Antibodies' mask by Su Richardson, 2020, produced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Cream mask with a coronavirus crocheted in red and blue on the right, attacked by gold and copper antibodies on the left. Ear loops in cream, backed with dark blue cotton. Pre-stitched label ‘SMR 2019-20’.
Su Richardson’s visually compelling, tactile and subtly subversive masks respond directly to one of the primary visual impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic: the requirement for people to wear face coverings in public across the globe. Using a traditional feminine skill – crochet – she references both impacts and experiences of the pandemic and bodily changes and pressures faced by women. This mask is one of six designs that respond to the pandemic. Richardson sees this mask as offering a hopeful message to the viewer about surviving Coronavirus. She was initially intrigued about how to produce the virus in crochet, using the well-known image produced by the United States Center for Disease Prevention and Control as inspiration.
Richardson is a British artist who pioneered the feminist movement in the 1970s. After a long break from making art, she started work again in 2018 and was prolific throughout the first UK Covid-19 lockdown. She produced an evolving series of masks, using her signature medium of crochet, producing one per day. She was drawn to the way that masks made people creative during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as to the interesting space that they provide for prominent messaging and self-expression.
A group of ten masks were chosen for the Science Museum Group collection, with two masks at the core: a plague mask and a ‘shielding’ mask. This puts the complex history of mask wearing, already represented within the collections, at the heart of a group of masks that speak to the pandemic and female experiences. Together the ten works put Covid-related mask wearing in the context of wider cultural discussions about covering, protecting, hiding or altering the human face.