Crochet 'House Bound’ mask by Su Richardson, 2020, produced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Red and brown mask crocheted in a pattern resembling brickwork, the bricks divided by white lines, a different button at each corner of the mask (variously black, bronze and silver). Ear loops in brown, backed with red 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 responds both to the pandemic and to female experience. Richardson chose the pattern of bricks as a reminder to people to stay indoors, but also returning to a previous work from the 1970s in which she responded to being housebound as a young mother. This mask therefore connects her past and present practice.
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.