Crochet 'Plague' mask by Su Richardson, 2020, produced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Silver mask shaped with a ‘beak’ coming out from the nose. Silver strips attached at each side to tie behind the head, backed with white 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 two designs that Richardson chose to be the core of a group of ten collected by the Science Museum Group. Alongside the ‘shielding’ mask, this plague mask puts the complex history of mask wearing, already represented within the SMG collections, at the heart of a group of masks that speak to the pandemic and female experiences. Richardson was drawn to produce a plague mask by existing metallic yarn in her collection. She had also been reading about the Derbyshire village of Eyam famed for isolating itself to protect outsiders from the plague in 1665. Richardson saw this mask as a reminder of our failure to learn lessons from history.
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. 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.