This work attattempts to make clear the environmental crisis that has arisen with the use of PPE during the Covid-19 pandemic. Being that Govanhill has a reputation for its fly-tipping and Glasgow is the site of the upcoming COP26 Convention, this project encompasses the drastic dichotomy between the two.
Since March 2020, we have been wearing facemasks to help protect us from the spread of Covid, but while these masks help save our lives, their single-use nature is also destroying our environment. The improper discarding of these masks is leading to health hazards as the disease is more likely to be spread from infected masks and as the masks break down, they degrade into microplastics, which find their way into our waterways and the bodies of birds, fish, and other wildlife, not to mention that they infect the soil with non-biodegradeable plastic. Each mask's finding spot is recorded to bring a sense of reality to the problem.
Through talking with passers-by in the neighborhood - children, adults, the elderly, and those from many different ethnic diasporas, LIFE MASK // DEATH MASK works to acheive community engagement and empowerment to keep our streets clean.
This project is ongoing and will become an outdoor neighborhood exhibition and a zine in the coming months.
This series was made possible by a grant from through Glasgow Life's Visual Arts and Crafts Maker Award.
Video footage by Rosie King
While out for my daily dose of allotted exercise during the deepest days of
lockdown, I began to take note of the dozens of facemasks strewn about the
neighborhood. No matter which way I walked, down which street, through which
park, blue surgical masks appeared, trod upon and rain-soaked into slurry. I
began to notice them stuck in bushes and on fence posts, in gardens, on benches,
and once, stuck to the foot of a pigeon.
As the pandemic drags on and the need for masks as protection from the spread,
even for those fully vaccinated, continues, there is no end in sight to this newest
disease of the environment. These masks are degrading quickly into micro-
plastics, polluting our waterways, filling the bellies of birds and fish, and soon,
saturating us. According to an article published by the National Center for
Biotechnology Information, “another implication of this indiscriminately
disposed face masks in the environment is the possibility of acting as a medium
for disease outbreak, as plastic particles are known to propagate microbes such
as invasive pathogens”. That is to say that the same masks keeping us from
spreading disease are possibly the source of more contagion.
So what about masks disposed of “properly”? A study completed in July 2021 by
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, estimates that the Covid-19 pandemic
generates nearly “7,200 tons of medical waste every day, much of which is
disposable masks”. While that figure on its own is appalling, it doesn’t take into
account the never-ending myriad of masks not making it there. They might be
dropped accidentally, like a lost glove in winter, or carelessly discarded after use,
but whatever the reason, their introduction into the environment is
overwhelming, unsightly, and dangerous.
I felt helpless.
And so I began a series of 19 performance paintings: 19, as a nod to Covid and
the performance being an attempt to commune with my neighbors during an
otherwise isolated existence.
Slogging about Govanhill with an easel on my shoulder, I find a jettisoned mask
and set to painting. Without fail, at least one curious person comes to talk to me
every time I’m out. From young to old, of any ethnicity and every walk of life. We
chat about the need for masks to protect, not destroy and begin to rebuild
community. And while I don’t solve the environmental crisis, I pack up basking in
optimism and kinship.
* Keep an eye out around the neighborhood for more to come with this project
and remember: wear reusable masks when you can and when you can’t, make
sure they reach the bin.
For more information about masks affecting the environment and our community, please watch