Masks as medium


asks have been frequently seen in fashion shows as part of ensembles, completing a look or underscoring a concept. They were not commonly worn everyday until the coronavirus pandemic emerged. The occasional accessory is now an essential.

From the clinical-looking and disposable ones, masks now come in different designs, colors and materials, not necessarily recommended by healthcare professionals. Many of them are made by fashion designers who are among those deeply affected by the lockdowns imposed to curb the infection.

When social gatherings and events were canceled or put on indefinite hold, fashion designers turned to making masks, channeling their creative energies. Before long, the mask had become the main medium of creative expression and the star of the show, as seen in the ongoing exhibit, ARTMask: Charity Through Creativity.

The Fashion Designers Alliance (FaDAL) has assembled masks as art works by eight of its members — Levenson Rodriguez, Ehrran Montoya, Estien Quijano, Roel Rosal, Julius Tarog, Russell Tero Villafuerte, Louis Magalona Claparols and Tipay Caintic. The exhibit is on show from 5 to 12 March at Kondwi, a creative space. The place in Poblacio, Makati is owned by artist Leeroy New and David Laboy. It’s a flexible space that can be transformed into a gallery, black box theater, bar, café or retail area.

Co-presented by Metro.Style, ARTMask is one of the first exhibits to be mounted after the government allowed, quite belatedly, galleries, museums and libraries to open, and comes in time to mark one year of the Philippine lockdowns, which are still ongoing.

Inspired by most affected countries

Exhibit visits and viewing are scheduled and limited, following pandemic safety guidelines. Onsite viewing dates are from 6 to 11 March at 1 to 2 p.m., 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. and 4 to 5 p.m. Ten persons are allowed at the time. Visitors must register beforehand through Kondwi or FaDAL’s social media accounts or writing to [email protected]

The eight masks or art works, placed inside glass-encased frames and accompanied by photographs by Gerard Daduya of models wearing them, are inspired by countries that are greatly affected by the pandemic.

Rosal selected Colombia as his country of inspiration and came up with “Vistosa,” which, he said, “is inspired mainly by the arts and crafts of Colombia. One particular craft that caught my attention is the Wayuu Mochila bags produced by the women of the Wayuu group located in the arid Guajira Peninsula in the northern part of Colombia and the northwest Venezuela.”

“The colorful patterns usually feature intricate tribal design and colors inspired by nature. Another inspiration is the bead works of the Embera Chami people of Colombia, featured in their beaded jewelry,” he explained. “The mask features crochet and bead works with geometric patterns in vibrant colors with multi-colored tassels.”

Montoya’s “Vreeland” is inspired by the United States, “an ode to Vogue’s first illustrated cover in 1892.”

“I am inspired to create a mask piece that will highlight both the historic illustrations of vintage Vogue and the black-and-white aesthetic scene of New York City,” they explained. “It is made out of Vogue pages covered with a transparent acetate to give emphasis on the newspaper/magazine article print vibes, embellished with pearls, representing the American fashion women during the late 1950s, the likes of Marilyn Monroe. Pearls possess a history and allure far beyond what today’s wearer may recognize. United States became famous for two products — the freshwater pearls and the mother of pearl.”

“Vreeland” is festooned with chains with dangling silvers stars, said to be reminiscent of The Great Gatsby and the Jazz Age, the American dream and the American flag with its stars that represent the 50 states.

On the other hand, Quijano’s “Romero” Spanish in spirit.

“I wanted to create something that would represent Spanish culture. A quick flash, the bull fighting arena and the flair of its hero, the matador came to mind. But I also wanted to show my Filipino identity and to create something that has depth with a well thought-out design concept, stretching down to the roots of history since my chosen beneficiary is about heritage,” Quijano said. “I was able to discover and weave the histories of the matadors to the sultanates of our archipelago using Meranaw cloth and Mindanawon embellishments.”

With Argentina in mind, Caintic created “La Desvalida (The Underdog).” Inspired by the attitudes and street art of the country’s capital, Buenos Aires, the mask is a nod to the “graffiti artists’ bandanas worn to protect them from spray paint fumes and to their identities from the authorities,” as well as a tribute to Negro Matapacos, “a stray dog that protected student activists and fought off police, hailed as a symbol of resistance.” It is also inspired by traditional Argentinian costumes.

Tarog took his inspiration for “Vinicunca” from Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, using satin and reusing cut beads from gowns, and aimed at engendering hope, positivity and happiness.

Meanwhile, Villafuerte’s India-inspired mask, “Vritra,” is named after the Vedic serpent deity personifying drought and adversary and was hand-sewn with the use of cut-glass beads, cords and sequins.

To represent South Africa, Claparols’s “Makeda” was inspired by the warriors of Wakanda, fictional country in Marvel Comics’ The Black Panther series, and he used metal, crystals and matte sequins to approximate the futuristic and tribal look of their attire.

For Russia, Rodriguez created “Gypsy,” taking cues from the colors used by the marginalized ethnic group as well as the Russian winter and incorporating a variety of materials and elements.

For charitable causes

Aside from being a showcase of their creativity, “ARTMask” is also for charitable causes. FaDAL has been holding events to raise funds for charity, as part of their Changing the Fashion Narrative campaign. Previously, the organization was able to send six prepaid WiFi modems for the Panay Bukidnon children in Panay Island, preloaded already with two-month worth of unlimited surfing for use in their long-distance education.

The masks will be virtually auctioned off and the proceeds donated to the designers’ chosen organizations. The designers selected a variety of organizations. Montoya, for example, chose Galang Pilipinas, a lesbian-initiated and -run feminist human rights organization that works with lesbians, bisexual women and trans men in urban poor communities.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has deeply affected all sectors including our urban poor lesbians, bisexual women, and trans men. I took this opportunity to help our beloved brothers and sisters as my beneficiary,” they said.

Rosal chose the Cancer Treatment and Support Foundation, while Tarog chose Save the Children. Other beneficiaries are the Philippine Animal Welfare Association for Claparols; Cribs Foundation for Villafuerte; Hope and Haven 4 Paws Animal Rescue for Caintic; Claret Heritage Council for Quijano; and Heritage Conservation Society for Rodriguez.

The auction will happen on 13 and 14 March, and bidding will start from P10,000 to P15,000. FaDAL said that this event is “to show that we are all in this together and if we’ll get through this if we help each other.” They are also planning another exhibit on face masks, this time inspired by Philippine festivals, slated for 7 to 14 May. It will be for the benefit of the Philippine General Hospital.

“Since festival celebrations have to be cancelled for the time being, it is a reminder for Filipino people on how colorful our culture is and we are resilient people,” they said.

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