Poster 'Ksenia & Yarosh' from 'Act of Love' project by Arina Voronova, 2020, New York. This poster shows a white woman (Ksenia) on the left, with red hair, kissing the forehead of a brown-haired white boy (Yarosh) on the right. Both wear blue face masks. The QR code and website for the project are bottom left.
‘The Act of Love’ is a street art project developed by photographer Arina Voronova at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic in January 2020. Working in New York City she created posters and stickers showing photographs of people kissing while wearing face coverings. Intended as a message of love and unity at a difficult time it highlights the enduring importance of face masks as a visual marker of the pandemic, as well as speaking to the racism experienced by Asian Americans. The project is exemplary of the community support and flowering of creativity that particularly brought people together at the beginning of the pandemic.
For the project, Voronova approached strangers and neighbours on the streets – couples or parents and nannies with children – across several New York neighbourhoods asking them “to support a global community” by wearing the masks and having their photograph taken. Across Manhattan and Brooklyn up to 1000 posters went up in March 2020. Voronova told The Guardian that the social anxiety experienced during isolation made people miss simple but important things, like touch: “The project is a reminder to all of us of what being a human is, being able to deal with the current world’s most significant problem with love and sympathy.” She aimed to ask a wide range of sitters to express love and unity in any form despite cultural differences. Continuing on into 2021, volunteers and sitters supported the project, pasting posters and stickers of her photographs across New York, in homes and offices, as well as the street. Voronova created up to 500 images, and four were selected to represent the project for the Science Museum Group collection in consultation with the artist.
Voronova’s heart-warming and visually compelling project is testament to the response demonstrated by so many to the spread of Coronavirus, reacting to support a community and encourage creative empathy. Developed so early in the pandemic it continued to be both visually and socially relevant. The original context for the artist and her volunteers was the wish to support China and Italy, then experiencing the height of the pandemic. American resistance to mask-wearing then become a powerful reference as Covid-19 spread to the USA. Face coverings continued to be a central visual symbol of the pandemic across different media into 2021.
Voronova also aimed to shed light on the discrimination that Asian Americans experienced during the pandemic. With many running crucial corner shops and food delivery outlets, yet part of a group seen as responsible for the virus arriving in the USA. She also sought to highlight the importance of supporting local businesses: “It’s everyone’s choice how to act during a pandemic but be mindful of where and how you’re doing it.”