A Namibian-German artist evoked enraged responses to his photographs of models wearing coronavirus masks created from common household goods including footwear, underwear, vegetables, and disposable panty liners.
The Instagram series, called “How-To Survive A Deadly Global Virus”, attracted angry viewer comments, with many describing the project as insensitive, offensive, and guilty of spreading dangerous misinformation. (See the project in full on the artist’s website – link here.)
Artist/designer Max Siedentopf quickly apologized to those offended by the images. “I apologize to everyone that felt offended by the series”, he said in a press release, “It was never my intention.”
“My work takes a critical and often ironical look at our surroundings,” he added. “It’s important for me to take people out of their comfort zone and see things from a different perspective, both positively and negatively.”
Said Siedentopf, “Ultimately, it’s up to them to interpret my work as they want to.”
Seidentopft created the series after viewing photos of people fearful of contracting coronavirus wearing all manner of makeshift masks. The acceleration of the COVID-19 pandemic has massively disrupted supply chains and incited an unprecedented (and ill-informed) consumer run. It’s likely that readers who venture outside – in any zip code – have seen people wearing painters’ masks, t-shirts, swaths of fabric, old Halloween masks, and headscarves tied across their mouths and noses, all a misguided means of self-protection. Better we all simply stay indoors. And follow sensible natural precautions like these described by Green Prophet Miriam Kresh.
Enter the mythology of masks. Common painter masks found at hardware stores screen out harmly vapors from the wearer. Surgical masks are designed to protect people from the mask wearer. The coveted and critically-needed N95 masks are respirators that can filter out 95 percent of airborne particles that can carry viruses (like SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19).
Ironically, Wuhan, China – where the virus originated – is a manufacturing hub for masks. Before the outbreak, China produced about 50 percent of the world’s sanitary masks (7 billion a year) and 90 percent of the surgical masks used in the United States. Ravaged by coronavirus, the manufacturing shutdown on China’s Hubei province has manufacturers in Europe, Israel, Japan, and the United States are struggling to meet global demand.
Experts generally agree that N95 masks have little value in the community. United States surgeon general Jerome Adams has tweeted, “Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Back to Siedentopf, who said he made the series of portraits to draw attention to paranoia and media coverage of the outbreak, not to make light of the global health crisis.
“I was expecting to uncloud the subject a little, focusing on the creativity of the masks and how you can find smart and creative solutions, as over the last two weeks there has been a lot of media clickbait paranoia around the virus, even though the Chinese Centre for Disease Control reported that over 80 per cent of cases have been extremely mild,” he explained.
“To put this into perspective, Malaria kills one to three million people per year, but you don’t see the news and public going crazy about that.” According to the Johns Hopkins global virus tracker as of this post reports over 681,000 confirmed cases with nearly 32,000 deaths.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has published advice on basic protective measures against coronavirus on its website, which includes washing hands regularly and maintaining distance from other people. (Link here.)
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