The photography exhibition “The Masks We Wear” features the contemporary mask collection of Sara M. Vance Waddell and works by artists Tina Guiterrez, co-producer of the ScareCorona porch art installations in Northside, and Leslie Daly. The exhibition is curated by Ena M. Nearon. Pieces from “The Masks We Wear” will be available for purchase at the event. To learn more, visit Pendleton Street Photography’s Facebook page.

“The Masks We Wear” exhibition runs through Aug. 12.

Attendees are asked to wear a mask and to practice safe social distancing in the gallery.

“Face masks became a controversial symbol of the fight against COVID-19 in the early part of March 2020,” said Curator Ena M. Nearon. “Due to the increased need by the medical professions in their highly contagious environment, and the high level of importance in essential worker arenas, the rapid production of face masks became a massive community effort. Although cultural norms and social pressure often interfered with compliance, universal masking resolved some perceptions against mask wearing, showing that if everyone wore masks, the unspoken message was that we were “all in this together.”

Outside of masking for cultural tradition or ritual, in the Western world, the public use of medical masking carries the stigma of being a sign of sickness.

The designation of Asia as the point of origin for the virus brought disdain and hostility toward Asian people who had been wearing masks for decades due to severe air pollution. However, African-American populations, long under the duress of police scrutiny, feared both for their health and for their safety if they were masked.

When celebrities and influencers chose not to wear a mask, they were judged for their sincerity and integrity. Even the way a mask is constructed became an issue of personal privilege and financial ability.

Couture houses have incorporated medical mask iconography, reflecting a shift in social acceptance. With the tools of their trade, artists rose to the task taking on the challenge of expression and safety as they began to visually communicate the beauty and the pain of wearing something as simple as a face mask.

Waddell, a native of Cincinnati, is a collector of art by women and artists of color. She has amassed one of the largest collections of women’s art in the Midwest. Her work is frequently loaned to institutions around the country. She is an instrumental member of multiple boards.

Waddell became a lightning rod when she began to feature photos of face masks being generously sent to her on social media from artists across the country. For instance, Carolyn Mazloomi, founder and director of the Women of Color Quilters Network, explored the possibilities of face masks that target racial protest. While Pam Kravitz, an award-winning artist and teacher with exuberant style, wrapped whimsy and fun into her mask with shiny sprinkles and shades of pink and red.

Cincinnati reflected COVID-19 with an abundance of creativity. Prominent in visibility were the Northside ScareCorona porch exhibits initiated by photo artist Tina Gutierrez. Rather than resist the sadness, loss and discomfort of the isolation that occurred, Tina’s work in this exhibit captures these emotions and allows them to be expressed with the COVID-19 Photo Collection. By creating facial casts of everyday people living through the pandemic wearing artful face masks, sculptor Leslie Daly has conceptualized a unique body of work.

As international protest movements meet critical mass, significant lessons have been learned, memories have been created and lifelong friendships begun. We truly are “all in this together.”

The Cincinnati Herald

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